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Accord clears way for Somalis' return to packing plant
[May 24, 2007]

Accord clears way for Somalis' return to packing plant

(Omaha World-Herald (NE) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) May 24--LINCOLN -- About 70 Somali meatpacking workers returned to work Wednesday at a Swift & Co. plant in Grand Island after Omaha community representatives intervened to help narrow a culture gap.

A delegation led by Mohamed Rage, chairman of the Omaha Somali-American Community Organization, met with company and union officials Tuesday to explain how union contracts and company policy conflict with Islamic prayer requirements.

"Management was cordial and understanding," Rage said.

Somali workers left their jobs at the Swift plant last week because they were unable to complete an evening prayer -- one of the five prayers required each day of the Islamic faith, Rage said.

The company agreed to allow a normal bathroom break to be used for prayer time. Workers agreed to limit their prayer time to the time available.

Workers were pleased with the meeting's results, Rage said.

"It was a gentlemen's agreement," he said.

Swift spokesman Sean McHugh said it was a productive meeting.

"All parties gained a better understanding of the others' concerns," McHugh said. "We've reached a mutually acceptable agreement that adheres to the provision of the existing labor contract."

McHugh said about 120 Somali workers resigned last week. By Wednesday afternoon, he said, about 70 had returned to work.

Copyright (c) 2007, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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