Friday, September 19, 2008

JBS Swift: Fight night at the factory

A fight breaks out in the cafeteria and now the A Shift is getting into the action.

Day four of strikes at the JBS Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Grand Island opened with a majority of A-shift workers (6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) walking off the job Thursday in a continued counterprotest -- and ended with police called to a reported riot in the Swift cafeteria. Reports Thursday night from workers at the scene indicated that a fight broke out between about 20 to 30 Somalian and Hispanic workers, but that the scuffle was under control in less than half an hour. A police team was called to Swift about 9 p.m. and entered the building. Shortly after, a group of Somalian workers were seen exiting Swift from north side doors and heading toward the parking lots. There were no immediate reports of injuries and no formal comment from either police or corporate officials.

The police later said:

Falldorf said there apparently was a verbal altercation, but no fight or physical altercation of any kind. "There was no criminal activity," he said. When police officers arrived, they talked with JBS Swift officials from Greeley who had come to mediate the disagreements that have occurred this past week on providing some means for Muslim Somalis to observe Ramadan. Falldorf said there had been a verbal altercation in the cafeteria that had gotten "loud," but the situation had de-escalated by the time police officers arrived. But The Independent received a phone call from a woman at the plant who said there was "a riot." As the woman's conversation continued, she said Somali employees were banging their helmets in the cafeteria.

The company has thrown out the "compromise" and is telling the workers to "get through the nine days left of Ramadan and then the plant schedule would return to normal."

The quote of the day comes from clueless union official Dan Hoppes:

The whole situation left Hoppes bewildered.

"I don't know what happened," Hoppes said. "I think we have problems between races."

Islam is not a race, Dan.

P.S. I thought the report that the Somalis all headed for the exits and ran to the parking lot when the cops arrived was very interesting. Maybe ICE needs to be paying JBS Swift a courtesy call?

UPDATE: 11:30am. This could explain the people making for the exits...

About 50 to 80 Muslims quit at the JBS Swift & Co. meatpacking plant Thursday night.

Dan Hoppes, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local No. 22, said the matter stems from the recent debate over break time for the purpose of prayer during the holy month of Ramadan. "There were some Muslim people who wanted to get the rest of the people to back them to moving their (dinner) break to an earlier time, and when that did not happen, the rest of the people went back to work and those people protesting got loud and boisterous. It wasn't a physical altercation at all," Hoppes said.

But there was fear that it might get physical, so the police were called into the Swift plant about 9 p.m.

"By the time the police got there, it was settled down, and several of them went ahead and quit or left the plant," Hoppes said. "They were told either go back to work or leave."

"Some of them chose to leave -- to quit," Hoppes said.