FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Somali Union Workers Fired for Wildcat Strike

by

shutterstock_344545331

On December 23, approximately 180 workers, most of them Somalis (in the U.S. as “protected refugees” under ICE provisions), were fired at a Cargill Meat Solutions facility in Fort Morgan, Colorado, for staging what amounted to an illegal “walkout” in protest of not being given sufficient on-the-job time to pray.

While the Somalis claim that Cargill management had reneged on its pledge to give Muslim workers adequate time away from their job to pray, Cargill management insists that, while they’ve willingly sought to accommodate employee wishes to engage in prayer, the demands of the workplace have always taken precedence.

In response to being deprived of “prayer time,” approximately 20 Somalis walked off the job, and another 160 refused to report to work. Cargill’s Fort Morgan plant employs roughly 2,000 people, 600 of which are Somalis, more than 400 of whom are still on the payroll.

This is an IBT (International Brotherhood of Teamsters) facility, Local 455. It is covered by a standard Teamster contract, one of whose provisions is its 3-day “no call, no show” language, which states that an employee failing to report to work for three days, and failing to contact the company (and can’t be reached by the company), is subject to termination. This is boilerplate language found not only in Teamster contacts, but in thousands of other union contracts.

I spoke with a reporter from the Denver Post this morning, but no one seems to know (or is willing to say) what is happening, other than noting that back-channel discussions are taking place between Cargill management and employee representatives. The Somalis are being represented formally by the IBT, and informally by CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations).

Although it’s based on pure speculation, there’s a good chance that Cargill management and the Somali “holdouts” will reach an agreement that allows employees who have been terminated (for whatever reason) to waive the mandatory six-month waiting period before reapplying. That would be a happy ending for all concerned.

CAIR’s spokesman, Jaylani Hussein, has maintained all along that this was more a “misunderstanding” than a “rebellion,” and he’s likely right. The Somalis have a good track record as employees. According to all reports, they’re happy to be living in the U.S., earning $14.00 per hour, and are the last people on the shop floor who are going to cause trouble.

But there are two barriers (both of which have to do with perception) standing in the way of a quick solution. For one, management is very likely to balk at bringing them back without penalty, fearing this would make them appear “susceptible” to threats.

If Cargill management thinks the Somalis’ strike will be judged “successful,” they simply won’t do it. Caving in to employee demands because they had a gun pointed at their heads will not only make them look easily intimidated, it will encourage other employees (both Muslim and non-Muslim) to view illegal strikes as a viable tactic.

And for another, good employees or not, it doesn’t take much effort to see these misguided Somali workers as culpable. Not only did they clearly violate the contract by refusing to work, the argument can be made that they were asking for more than “religious freedom.” They were asking for preferential treatment.

One thing that’s been ignored in the conversation is the Teamsters’ “unpaid lunch” provision. There are two types of meal periods in union contracts: paid and unpaid. If your lunch break is “paid,” it means the company, in an emergency situation, can instruct you to return to work. Because they’re still paying you, it makes utter sense that you’re still subject to work directives.

By contrast, an “unpaid” meal period is yours to use as you like. While a person on a “paid” lunch can be terminated for leaving the facility (I’ve seen it happen), a person on an unpaid lunch can go to the bank, run errands, have his car filled with gas, etc. Presumably, he can also use that time to pray. And if he’s a religious type, why wouldn’t he? Unless the reports are wrong, the Fort Morgan facility has “unpaid” lunch periods.

Back in my union days, I experienced something similar to the Cargill situation. In no way was it anywhere nearly as serious as Cargill, but it was on the same “axis.” A group of Christians came to the union and asked if we would request that the company give them access to a conference room in which to hold Bible study meetings.

These Bible study guys already knew that I was a non-Christian, non-believer whom they had come to view as the anti-Christ, but because I was union president, and they were dues-paying union members, it made sense for me to do the asking.

I had no problem making the pitch. I knew every one of them. They were good guys and respected workers, and I was certain their request was being made in earnest. After hearing my pitch, the plant manager agreed to give them access to the room. However, it was understood that these studies would occur after work, never during.

A month later three baseball card hobbyists asked me to ask the plant manager if they could use a conference room to trade sports memorabilia after work. I refused to make that request, and they took offense. When they mentioned the Bible study guys as having “set a precedent,” I told them I didn’t admit the comparison.

My advice to them was to approach the plant manager themselves. The worst thing that could happen is that he says no. But they didn’t appreciate hearing that because they wanted the benefit of union “muscle.” I stubbornly refused and they left angry. I saw three potential votes in the next union election grow wings and fly away.

Personally, I hope these Somalis are reinstated. They messed up, but should be given a second chance. As for “religious freedom,” I think they misunderstood an employer’s obligation to provide a place and time for worship.

On the other hand, labor people have raised some fair questions: Why have ICE agents chased out undocumented Latinos in these meat-packing plants and opened the door to Somalis? Why aren’t more American-born men and women working these $30,000 a year jobs?

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail