Plant Drops Labor Day For Muslim Holiday
More Than Half Of Tyson Plant's Workforce Muslim
POSTED: 12:18 pm CDT August 1, 2008
UPDATED: 6:29 pm CDT August 1, 2008
SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. -- Some workers at a local plant will no longer to be able to take their Labor Day holiday because of religious reasons.
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Workers at the Tyson Foods poultry processing plant in Shelbyville will no longer have a paid day off on Labor Day but will instead be granted the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr.
According to a news release from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, a new five-year contract at the plant included the change to accommodate Muslim workers at the plant.
Tyson's director of media relations Gary Mickelson said the contract includes eight paid holidays -- the same number as the old contract.
Eid al-Fitr -- which falls on Oct. 1 this year -- marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.
Union leaders said implementing the holiday was important for the nearly 700 Muslims, many of them Somalis, who work at the plant that employs a total of 1,200 people.
Nineteen-year plant veteran William Pentecost doesn’t agree with the decision.
"I don’t think it's right. I really don't think it's right," he said.
Tyson company spokeswoman Libby Lawson said by phone that, "This isn't a religious accommodation, this is a contractual agreement. The majority asked for it."
The change didn’t bother some workers.
"I think it's fine. I don’t have any problem with it. There's a whole bunch of them here, so they've got to do something for them," said worker John Smith.
"It shouldn't happen. I mean, I think, we're in America, you're in America, I think that they should go with our holidays," Pentecost said.
Channel 4's Cynthia Williams could not reach any of the plant’s Muslim workers, because Channel 4 News' crew was not permitted on the property.
Former employee and Shelbyville resident Anthony Proctor said he thinks what's happening is wrong.
He said he helped build a special Muslim prayer room that's located inside the plant and that no other Tyson facility has been that accommodating for any other religion.
"If we want to go pray, we don’t have one for Christians," he said.
Tyson is headquartered in Arkansas.
Lawson said they consider religious accommodations on a case-by-case basis. She said that so far, no one has asked for any other type of religious prayer room.
No one at the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s regional office answered phone calls placed by Williams on Friday.
A representative in New York said that no one there knew specifics about the new contract with the workers, but a person in research told Williams that holidays aren't usually replaced and are more likely to be added on.
The decision will only apply to workers at the plant who are union members. All other employees at the plant will still have their normal Labor Day holiday.
Watch Channel 4 News at 5:00 p.m. for a full report on this story. WSMV talks to at 19-year veteran employee of the plant to get his thoughts.
"This is America, founded by the blood of our forefathers and should not be challenged by Somalians, Hispanics, or any other immigrants. If they come to America, they need to learn our language and our ways. They can practice their culture in private if they so please, but not shove it down our throats. Would they let us go there and change there country? I have banned Tyson's products from my home for years because of the illegals they were hiring. I am sorry for the producers that are supplying them, but Tyson's has once again crossed the line with the American people. Labor Day was here long before Tyson's. What holiday will be next to be taken away and replaced to accommodate an immigrant. This stinks worse than the plant," said another anonymous forum participant.
"Disgusting ... appalling ... horrifying ... there just aren't enough words to describe this situation. There will never be another Tyson product in my home EVER!! Bedford County and the rest of the nation needs to take notice. Is this what we are coming to?" said another.
A Muslim website says the holiday is a "joyous three-day celebration" that concludes Ramadan, during which Muslims fast during the day.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the national holiday dates from Sept. 5, 1882, and is "dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."