JBS Swift meatpacking plant in Greeley, CO hopes it is ready for Ramadan tomorrow
Posted by Ann Corcoran on August 21, 2009
I guess hope springs eternal, but management at JBS Swift & Co in Greeley thinks that after making a number of concessions they can accommodate their hundreds of Muslim workers demands during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Of course it remains to be seen whether other ethnic workers in the plant will protest the religious accommodation as they did last year. From the Greeley Tribune today, hat tip Jerry Gordon.
Just a day before the beginning of Ramadan, the holy month of fast and prayer for Muslims, talks between meatplant workers, union representatives and company officials continued in earnest.
The objective: Avoid a repeat of the showdown at sundown that flared at JBS USA meatpacking plants in Greeley and Grand Island, Neb., last September.
During Ramadan, Muslims don’t eat or drink during daylight hours. They break their daily fast after sunset prayers.
Miscommunication about how to handle the religious practices resulted in more than 100 Muslim workers — mostly Somalis, but also other East African refugees who’ve moved to Greeley in recent years — being fired last September for walking off production lines.
Graen Isse, a Somali who helps operate the East Africa Community Center in Greeley, said he thinks conflicts will be avoided this year.
They got their special bidet toilets, but will they get their shift changes?
Unlike last year at this time, JBS has created two prayer rooms for Muslim workers inside the plant — one for men and one for women. Also, the company has installed stations in restrooms that allow workers to thoroughly wash, which is custom before prayers.
Still, some Muslims on the B shift, which runs from late afternoon to late evening and runs into prayers at sundown, have requested a monthlong switch to the daytime A shift to avoid conflicts, Isse said.
“I don’t think they’re going to move 400 workers to A shift,” Isse said of JBS. “It’s hard for them to do.”
Yes, indeed, be sure to accommodate those Somalis!
Chandler Keys, JBS spokesman, declined to comment on specific proposals being discussed.
“We think we have the right solutions to make sure the plant operates functionally and efficiently, but also trying to accommodate the needs of all the workers going into Ramadan, particularly the Somali workers,” Keys said.
There’s no telling for sure how it will work out until Ramadan begins this weekend, he noted.
I guess we will wait and see!
Now I want to turn your attention to Graen Isse (Mohamud Ahmed Isse). I’ve followed his ‘career’ in Greeley since it began shortly before Ramadan last year. Well-educated and bilingual, Isse arrived in Greeley in advance of Ramadan and lo and behold got a job at the plant one week(!) before he was fired along with other workers. Coincidence?
I don’t think so, I think Isse is a ‘community organizer’ sent to Greeley to agitate. I guess the big question remains, who sent him?
Just a reminder that it was also Isse who inflamed the conflict between Somalis and Hispanics by going to the Arab press and blaming the trouble on the longtime Hispanic workers, here. Remember Alinsky says you need to create chaos to bring about change.
This is what we learned about Isse last fall here.
Remaining [after many Somalis moved to Ft. Morgan, CO] are the “community organizers” who had intrigued me while the controversy was on-going. Graen Isse was the guy who had showed up in town just before all this started and then busied himself by talking to the likes of Arabic news outfits, blaming the problem on the Hispanics. He told the Arab publication he had worked in America since he was 16, but from this puff-piece it would appear he had a typical American high school experience. And, with an education like his, what was he doing looking for meatpacking work (even as a translator)?
Graen Isse, a local Somali leader, understands these conflicting impulses well. In his fourteen years in America, he’s bounced between three states. Now he’s trying to figure out how to help Greeley’s Somali community survive, even if he’s not sure how long he’ll stick around himself.
Slim and amiable, the 27-year-old Isse is constantly in motion — knee tapping, cell phone wire hanging from his ear, eyes scanning the room. [who is he talking to and what is he looking for?]
[Supposedly separated from his parents as a child by the everpresent violence in Africa, miraculously one day his parents were found.]
One day, Isse’s older brother appeared and announced that their parents had escaped to neighboring Kenya. As his family was reunited, another of Isse’s brothers, who had been injured in the war, made it to California as a refugee. He told the government about his family back home, clearing the way for Isse and several members of his family to apply for refugee status and move to San Diego. *see note below
So Isse grew up as an American teenager, running track and playing high school football. After he graduated from high school in Minneapolis, where his mother had moved, his globetrotting continued. He took college classes in California, then completed his degree in Kenya before ending up back in San Diego. There he worked for a transportation tracking company, drove a taxi, even took some law school classes.
Isse moved to Greeley last summer because a friend from California, Aziz Dhies, was working as a nurse there and suggested that Isse might like the town as well. Isse was hired as a translator at Swift and had only been on the job for about a week when the Ramadan controversy began. He was thrust into the midst of the problem as he negotiated on behalf of hundreds of people whom he had only just met. He, too, was fired because he went home to eat and rest on the day the dispute was resolved instead of returning immediately to work. But he quickly found a new job, working part-time as a translator at the Weld County courts. And he and Dhies dedicated themselves to community organizing, forming the East Africa Community, which aims to be “the middleman between the leaders and our community,” Isse says.
I believe that Isse is a professional community organizer brought in to agitate the Swift workers, but I guess the big question is, who sent him?
* For new readers:
The US State Department has admitted over 80,000 Somali refugees to the US in the last 25 years and then last year had to suspend family reunification because widespread immigration fraud was revealed through DNA testing.
The immigration fraud involved mostly Somalis filing application to bring family members to the US who turned out not to be related. The program is still under suspension.
See our entire category (over 70 posts) on the controversy on-going with Swift and Co. and its Somali workers, here.
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