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Legal news from Sunday, September 14, 2008

  • US workers claim Ramadan observance led to wrongful terminations
  • Mariana Islands governor sues to stop application of US immigration system


  • Sunday, September 14, 2008

    US workers claim Ramadan observance led to wrongful terminations
    Steve Czajkowski at 3:20 PM ET

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    [JURIST] Muslim union workers at the JBS Swift & Co. [company website] meatpacking plant in Greeley, Colorado have filed grievances and wrongful termination claims stemming from alleged employment conflicts with their observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan [Beliefnet.com backgrounder]. Initially there were attempts to work out a deal [Greely Tribune report] with Swift that would allow night shift workers to take a meal break before 9 pm to accommodate their fasting from sunrise to sunset. On September 5, when requests for a break at sunset were denied, approximately 220 workers coming mostly from Somalia [JURIST news archive] and other African nations staged a walk-out in protest. All of the protesters were suspended and a large percentage were later fired. According to an official from Swift, the number of workers fired was 101, but a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 [official website] said the number was closer to 150. Attorneys for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) [official website] have become involved as mediators in the dispute. AP has more. CBS4 Denver has local coverage.

    In 2007, Swift dealt with a similar issue at a meat-packing plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, where approximately 120 workers abruptly quit [AP report] after they were denied the opportunity to pray at sunset. Workers at that plant had said they were verbally and physically harassed, which led some to file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website], raising provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [text; EEOC backgrounder] prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. The dispute in Colorado follows a situation at a Tyson Foods [corporate website] plant in Shelbyville, Tennessee, where last month the company agreed [The Tennessean report] to give workers the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr as a paid day off instead of Labor Day.



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    Mariana Islands governor sues to stop application of US immigration system
    Steve Czajkowski at 1:18 PM ET

    Photo source or description
    [JURIST] Benigno Fitial, governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) [official website], filed a lawsuit Friday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] to prevent the US government from taking over the CNMI's immigration system. Fitial asserts that the provisions of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 [S. 2739 materials] allowing federal immigration laws to be applied to the CNMI would force all foreign workers to leave and thereby devastate the local economy, which is largely dependent on workers from abroad. Fitial also argued that the takeover is against the provisions of the 1975 covenant [text] between the US and the CNMI guaranteeing self governance, and that the takeover is unconstitutional since the CNMI did not have sufficient representation in Congress when the bill was approved [Saipan Tribune report] this past May. The law may take effect as early as June 2009. The Saipan Tribune has more.

    There has been much debate from inside and outside the CNMI on whether the legislation will cause the problems forecast by Fitial, and also whether the lawsuit is a necessary one. Juan Tudela Lizama [official biography], campaigning to become the CNMI's delegate to the US House of Representatives, commented [statement text] that while he does not believe the legislation was enacted in accordance with the covenant, he does not support the current lawsuit. He added, "the problem surrounding the federalization law is the absence of existing dialogue between the CNMI people and the leaders in the United States government," and asserted that open communication would allow for greater understanding of the impact from the legislation. The Filipino Contract Workers Association Inc., the United Workers Movement NMI, and the United Filipino Organization (UFO) [official website] have all said they object [GMA News and Public Affairs report] to the lawsuit and will support a protest. The groups called the lawsuit a waste of much-needed resources.



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