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Nearly 150 Muslims fired for absences after prayer dispute at Colorado plant

(CNN)About 150 Muslims were fired from their jobs at a beef processing plant in Colorado for failing to show up for work over a prayer dispute.

Last month, a group of 11 workers at Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan wanted to go pray at the same time in a room in the plant that is set aside for prayer and reflection. Their supervisor asked that the group break up into smaller numbers to not affect production, according to CNN affiliate KCNC.
The workers complied with the supervisor's request and went in smaller groups to pray. But after their shift ended, 10 of the 11 workers resigned, turning in their badges and hard hats, Cargill spokesman Michael Martin told CNN.
    News of the dispute spread to other plant employees, and about 150 Somali workers missed work for three days in protest.
    Based on Cargill's attendance policy, the company fired those who failed to come to work for three consecutive days without giving any form of notice, Martin said.
    Many are now applying for unemployment as the company looks for new hires, KCNC reported.
    The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslims workers who were fired after the prayer dispute said that accommodation requests were handled in a discriminatory manner by plant managers, according to a press release.
    Although some circumstances surrounding the prayer dispute remain vague, Jaylani Hussein, a spokesman and executive director of CAIR, told The Denver Post that a plant policy allowing short prayer breaks at various times during the day was changed, and Muslim workers were told to "go home" if they wanted to pray.
    Cargill released a statement saying that the company has policies specific to attendance and religious accommodations and makes reasonable attempts to provide religious accommodations for its employees. Martin said the company's policies have not changed.
    The plant has two reflection rooms for all of its 2,100 employees to use for prayer. "There are times where we have to sequence how many people are allowed to go [to pray] so that production is not slowed down," Martin said.
    Martin said the company tried to work toward a solution with the workers, without success.
    Although the company is in the process of hiring new employees, it is possible those who were fired may be able to reapply for their old jobs. The company has a six-month waiting period before reapplying, but Martin said that waiting time may be reduced.
    More than 500 Somalis continue to work at the plant, Martin said.
    CAIR did not immediately respond to a request from CNN for comment.
    Cargill Meat Solutions, with headquarters in Wichita, Kansas, is a division of Cargill Inc., which employees 155,000 people in 68 countries.