Around 150 Somali refugees who settled in Fort Morgan, Colorado, to take jobs at Cargill Meat Solutions’ plant there were fired in December for abandoning their jobs over a dispute about prayers in the workplace.
Now, that conflict has thrust those workers into limbo, uncertain about what is going to come next. The meat plant is struggling to find workers to fill the positions.
Fort Morgan, an agricultural community about 90 minutes northeast of Denver, has long been home to large groups of minority families whose members worked at the beef plant, The New York Times reports. In the early 1990s, those employees were mainly Vietnamese, Mexican and Central American.
Deportation raids in the mid-2000s pushed out many of the Latino groups, who were replaced by Somalis, Eritreans, Moroccans and others. Most of the workers who were fired are Muslims.
“You move, you move, you move, new place, new state, new friends, every time,” said 28-year-old Abdukadir Ali. “It’s very hard.”
Cargill has previously stated that it grants employees a “vast majority” of their break requests, but that the plant operates on a rigid and carefully assembled schedule.
“There has been no change to our religious accommodation policy,” said company spokesman Mike Martin. “The granting of prayer requests has always been based upon adequate staffing.”
As The New York Times notes, Cargill’s troubles are evocative of similar types of conflicts in other parts of the Midwest. JBS’ meatpacking plant in Greeley, Colorado has come under federal allegations that it failed to provide reasonable religious accommodations.
Another ongoing dispute is taking place in Wisconsin, in which snow-blower and lawnmower manufacturer Ariens has tried to schedule breaks rather than having Muslim employees take their own prayer breaks.
This is a scenario that will likely happen more as the demographics of small towns across the U.S. shift.