Views Differ over Muslim Holiday at Tyson Plant

US - A contract that substitutes a Muslim holiday for Labor Day as one of the eight paid holidays at a Tyson Foods poultry plant has been negotiated by the union, and has stimulated some strong reactions.
calendar icon 6 August 2008
clock icon 3 minute read

The change was proposed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. It has been welcomed by the plant’s Somali workers, who account for hundreds of its 1,200 employees. However, many outsiders have denounced Tyson and the union alike, reports New York Times.

Reacting to criticism, Stuart Appelbaum, the union’s president, said the decision was fully consistent with the spirit of Labor Day.

"We in the labor movement have always understood that unions are only strong when we work to protect the dignity of all faiths, and that includes Muslims," explained Mr Appelbaum, who is also president of the Jewish Labor Committee.

He added that this is the will of the workers and that his was the first union to negotiate a paid day off for a Muslim holiday yet Tyson will not be the last employer to agree.

The plant affected is in the town of Shelbyville in Tennessee, some 40 miles south of Nashville. Under a five-year contract there, Id al-Fitr - which marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting - is now one of the plant’s eight paid holidays.

Union officials explained that the two Somali immigrants on the union’s eight-member bargaining committee had wanted to make Id al-Fitr a paid holiday. The union agreed to this at the expense of Labor Day. Behind the decision was they did not want to trade Christmas, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day or other existing paid holidays, and because Tyson has usually required the plant’s employees to work on Labor Day anyway.

The company later issued a statement later clarifying the situation, "Contrary to recent reports, Labor Day is still a holiday at Tyson Foods. The issue concerns only the plant at Shelbyville."

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