Union workers and officials at a Tyson Foods plant in Tennessee have agreed to reinstate Labor Day as a paid holiday, though the plant will also observe the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr this year.
Tyson had previously agreed to drop Labor Day and substitute the Muslim holiday as part of a new 5-year contract. The change was meant to accommodate Muslim workers at the plant in Shelbyville.
Tyson’s corporate headquarters in Springdale, Ark., said on Friday the company requested reinstating Labor Day after “public reaction” to the change and that some plant employees complained about it.
Both the company and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union say there will be nine paid holidays in 2009, including both Labor Day and Eid al-Fitr. Union members approved the new agreement on a vote held Thursday.
For the remainder of the five-year contract, there will be eight paid holidays, including Labor Day and a personal holiday that can be used to observe Eid al-Fitr or another day the employee’s supervisor approves.
Eid al-Fitr – which falls on Oct. 1 this year – marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.
In announcing the holiday change last week, union leaders said implementing it was important for the nearly 700 Muslims, many of them Somalis, who work at the plant that employs 1,200 people. The union has since said “hundreds of workers” at the plant are Muslim, though it did not have a specific figure.
Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson said around 250 Somalis work at the plant. The holiday issue concerns the Shelbyville plant, located about 50 miles southeast of Nashville, and doesn’t affect Tyson’s other 118 U.S. plants.
Muslim civil rights advocates say Tyson is backtracking on the initial union agreement after intense public backlash on talk radio, the Internet and national TV news outlets. . .
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for Washington D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the initial holiday changes “were negotiated in a labor contact, which seems to be the essence of having a Labor Day in the first place.
“This wasn’t something imposed. It seems that this backtracking would be the result of the backlash from anti-Muslim hate (Web) sites and Islam-o-phobes on the Internet.” (MORE)


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