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In Cargill labor dispute, Colorado regulator findings side with fired workers

Colorado’s Labor Department said Cargill appears to have changed its rules on employees taking prayer breaks at a meatpacking plant there, a finding that contradicts what the company has been saying about a situation that led to more than 100 Muslim workers losing or quitting their job late last year.

The state sided with the employees, who were mostly from Somalia, in case after case, finding them “not at fault” for workplace changes that led to the dispute. In doing so, the state decided to award unemployment benefits to 114 former Cargill workers who filed claims.

About 150 employees walked off the job at Cargill’s meatpacking facility in Fort Morgan, Colo., last December after being told they would no longer be allowed to take prayer breaks. Cargill, headquartered in Wayzata, said this was a misunderstanding and that it had not changed its policy at all.

Cargill declined to comment on Colorado’s recent decision to award unemployment benefits. Cargill spokesman Mike Martin reiterated the company’s position that it did not change its religious accommodation policy.

Colorado labor department investigators concluded that “on Dec. 16, 2015, the employer changed its policy” to prohibit any prayer breaks, which was a major shift from its previous pattern of usually allowing workers to take a prayer break shortly after making a request.

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