Between 70 and 100 Swift & Co. workers quit their jobs at a meatpacking plant in Grand Island, Neb., over issues involving prayer times.

The workers, according to Swift, are Somali Muslims. Most of them were hired following immigration-related raids at the plant in December, according to union officials.

The workers told the company and the union that their prayer times weren’t being accommodated.

At unionized Swift plants, workers receive one 15-minute paid break and one 30-minute unpaid break during each eight-hour shift, said Swift spokesman Sean McHugh.

“Employees can use this break as they see fit, including religious reasons. These are established policies made clear to all new hires,” McHugh said. “It’s a dissatisfaction with our break policy and request for additional breaks.”

He said the Grand Island plant has 200 workers and supervisors believed to be Somali Muslims out of a workforce of 2,900.

It’s unclear what kind of additional breaks the workers requested, as those involved could not be reached Tuesday.

But according to Ammar Amonette, imam of the Colorado Muslim Society in Denver, Muslims observe five prayer times each day, at dawn, noon, midafternoon, sunset and nighttime. The prayers last about 10 minutes. There’s also a special prayer ritual observed on Fridays at noon, which is of particular importance to Muslim men.

Amonette said that he didn’t have details on the issues at the Nebraska plant but said it is “unusual for that number of people to be affected and walk out of their job.”


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