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Another fine mess

Yowzer. This one has everything. Freedom of religion, fairness in the workplace, immigration, general free-floating bigotry. (But no sex, drugs or rock-n-roll, so maybe not everything.)

Colorado meatpacking plant lays off 100 Muslim workers

A meatpacking company Wednesday laid off about 100 Muslim immigrant workers who walked off the job last week in protest of the firm’s refusal to give them time to pray during the holy month of Ramadan. … The Muslim workers, mainly Somali immigrants, have recently flocked to the plant, replacing many of the 262 workers, mostly Latinos, who were detained as illegal immigrants following a federal raid in late 2006. … Some other Swift workers, however, were angered by the Muslims’ requests for extra prayer time. “Somalis are running our plant,” worker Brianna Castillo told the Greeley Tribune. “They are telling us what to do.” Non-Muslim workers complained they had to do additional work when Muslims went to pray, which devout followers do five times a day. … “Many companies pay time and a half for working Christian holidays,” Gonzales said. “It’s a different time now, and we should respect different people’s values.”

Let’s unpack that.

First: does everyone have a right to practice their religion? Well, duh. Second: does anyone else have to pay a price so that someone can practice their religion? Duh, again. I don’t envy the Swift company.

And then, talk about the law of unintended consequences. Chuck out a bunch of brownish, illegal meatpackers (in a way that leaves their kids stranded without care) and get back a bunch of praying legal meatpackers with a union.

Meatpacking plants move at a phenomenal pace. That’s why there are so many on-the-job injuries. Somehow, I don’t see Swift slowing down the whole (dis)assembly line because a couple of people had to step out. If you know more about the business, correct me in comments if I’m wrong, but I think a replacement has to fill the position with the speed and accuracy of an athlete. Or the remaining people on the line have to work that much faster, which is a non-trivial matter when you’re already moving faster than the eye can track.

So I can see where it’s not quite the same as paying time-and-a-half for Christian holidays. Other people are paying a real price for the religious observance. Knowing Swift, they’re not being compensated for that. I could see resentment building.

And then, notice that it’s someone named “Brianna” who says “They tell us what to do.” I’d be willing to bet the Somali workers are male. The Somali concept of how to treat women is — how to put this gently? — appalling. Who knows where some of that resentment the “non-Muslims” are feeling came from? If it was racism, people would call it by its right name. If it was Islamophobia, they would too. But if there’s sexism in the mix, there’ll be fifteen things mentioned and sexism will never be one of them.

I could imagine some very simple, fair, equitable, and easy ways to accommodate everyone in this. They all involve Swift slowing down the line to human speeds.

Good luck with that.