This story is five years old; the decision made by Tyson was later reversed ( http://www.t-g.com/story/1451367.html ). Click here for the company's statement on its current policies.
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Workers at Tyson Foods' poultry processing plant in Shelbyville will no longer have a paid day off on Labor Day, but will instead take the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr in the fall.
The RWDSU stated that "the five-year contract creates an additional paid holiday, Iidal Fitil, a Muslim holiday that occurs toward the end of Ramadan."
Eid al-Fitr falls on Oct. 1 this year.
Tyson's Director of Media Relations, Gary Mickelson, stated that while the new contract does not provide an additional holiday, as the union claimed, "the new contract includes eight paid holidays, which is the same number provided in the old contract."
"However, the union leadership did request and receive Eid al-Fitr (which is apparently spelled various ways including Id al-Fitr and Eid ul-Fitr) as a paid holiday in place of Labor Day," Mickelson confirmed in an e-mail to the T-G.
"Since all Team Members will still have eight paid holidays, the change will not affect production," Mickelson said.
Eid al-Fitr means "Festival of the Breaking of the Fast" in Arabic, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.
The festival "is distinguished by the performance of communal prayer (salat) at daybreak on its first day. It is a time of official receptions and private visits, when friends greet one another, presents are given, new clothes are worn, and the graves of relatives are visited," the encyclopedia said.
Mickelson said that "Eid al-Fitr is one of eight paid holidays for all Team Members covered by the contract, while Labor Day is not a paid holiday."
"Based on the contract, the other paid holidays include: The Team Member's birthday, New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day," Mickelson said.
"Implementing this holiday was a challenge, since it falls on a different day every year and is declared on fairly short notice," RWDSU Representative Randy Hadley said in the press release. "But the negotiating committee felt this was extremely crucial, since this holiday is as important to Muslims as Christmas is to Christians."
"The date for this holiday (Eid al-Fitr) is not the same each year," Mickelson said. "however, it is in the early fall."
The press release stated there are approximatly 700 Muslims working at Tyson, but Mickelson said that Somalis only represent approximately 250 of the 1,200 employed at the plant, a little over 20 percent of the workforce.
"All Team Members who have completed their probationary period are eligible for all eight paid holidays including Eid al-Fitr," the Tyson spokeman said.
The union also claimed that in addition to the observance of the Muslim holiday, "two prayer rooms have been created to allow Muslim workers to pray twice a day and return to work without leaving the plant."
Mickelson said that Shelbyville's Tyson plant "does have a prayer room to accommodate the needs of Muslim Team Members."
"In addition to regular, non-paid breaks, all Team Members are allotted a seven-minute paid break," the Tyson spokesman said. "Some Team Members choose to pray during this time."
However, Mickelson took issue with another claim made by RWDSU, which stated that another "improvement" in the contract is time-and-a-half pay for Team Members who work more than an eight hour shift.
"This statement is not accurate," Mickelson said. "This overtime pay provision is not new nor is it unique. In fact, it was included in the previous contract."