Brian Mosely, Times-Gazette (Shelbyville, Tenn.), August 6, 2008
Tyson Foods says that Labor Day is still a holiday, but not for the union employees at the Shelbyville poultry processing facility, who will be taking off the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr instead.
Meanwhile, the union that negotiated the controversial contract at the Shelbyville plant has removed the original press release announcing the holiday change from its web site, and the union president has described the backlash to the decision as “bigotry.”
The union had stated in a June 19 press release that 700 Muslims worked at the plant, while Tyson repeated Tuesday that there are only 250 Somalis of the 1,000 union members employed there.
Some readers expressed outrage after the Times-Gazette reported that the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) had successfully negotiated a contract at the Shelbyville Tyson facility that took Labor Day away as a paid holiday and replaced it with the Muslim holy day Eid al-Fitr.
Since the T-G broke the story last Friday, it has received national attention and has become a hot topic of discussion on talk radio, the Internet and national TV, including Fox News Channel.
When asked how Tyson Foods felt about the negative backlash against their company that occurred after the T-G published the story last week, spokesperson Libby Lawson said, “we regret how consumers feel about all of this. We sincerely do.
“Feedback has been thought-provoking. We have received a lot of calls expressing anger and support. We are an American-based company with core values that acknowledges diversity and all faiths,” Lawson said.
“We have chaplains of many different denominations in most of our plants. It has indeed made us reflective about how we negotiate with unions.”
The union refused to answer a series of questions posed by the T-G, but instead released a statement from Stuart Appelbaum, the national president of the RWDSU.
“There’s no question that there is a lot of bigotry against Muslims and that this agreement has clearly touched a raw nerve among those who are prejudiced against them,” Appelbaum said in the prepared statement. “However, the RWDSU has always understood that unions are only strong when they work to protect the dignity of workers of all faiths.
“That includes Muslims. Our union may be the first to negotiate this kind of agreement, but I have no doubt that others will follow our lead,” Appelbaum said.