Ariens Co. has fired several Muslims over a protracted prayer time dispute. The Wisconsin-based equipment company says seven Muslim employees were let go because they insisted on taking unscheduled prayer breaks. An additional fourteen Muslims have walked out in protest. Despite having “bent the rules” in the past, Ariens said they made it clear that the leniency was over.
Reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Feb. 3: “The Muslim employees wanted the manufacturer of snowblowers and lawn mowers to continue a previous, more lenient practice of allowing them to leave their work stations at different times — such as at dawn and sunset — to pray as their faith requires of them.”
An informal policy of allowing Muslim workers multiple five to ten minute breaks to perform the Salaah, the fixed ritual of the Islamic prayer, had been in place at the Ariens plant in Brillion, Wisconsin, but recently, management cracked down on the long-running practice.
According to Ariens, 32 of the Muslim employees decided to adhere to the policy, which allowed two, ten-minute breaks per work shift, in addition to a lunch break. Seven continued to take their “prayer breaks” at unscheduled times, and were ultimately fired.
The incident in Wisconsin follows the widely reported firing of nearly 200 Muslim employees from the Cargill Meat Solutions meat processing plant in Fort Morgan, Colorado. In January, after striking over a dispute involving prayer breaks, 190 Somali workers were let go after failing to show up for work for three straight days.
“We handled this with the same straightforward approach we use every day at Ariens Company. Recognizing there are language barriers and cultural differences, we allowed for extra time. We would have liked for more of the employees to stay, however, we respect their faith, we respect the work they have done for Ariens Company, and we respect their decisions,” the company said in a statement, referring specifically to the fourteen employees who quit.
A Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, The Council on American-Islamic Relations, is now reviewing the incident at Ariens. Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the group’s Minnesota chapter, said they are considering filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“We have several options on the table, and we will look at all of them. I think the EEOC is one of the first moves that we normally make,” said Hussein. “We will definitely look at all of the legal options. We are just getting everything lined up for what we are going to do next.”
Hussein said Ariens Co. tried to get the fired employees to sign a statement indicating they were being fired because the knowingly violated company policy. Signing such a statement would impact their ability to gain future employment, as well as hinder potential unemployment benefits. Most refused to sign, Hussein said.
“We are encouraging them to apply for unemployment benefits,” Hussein commented, according to Fox News. “But at the end of the day, we want these people to have their jobs and to continue working there.”
Sound off below: Do you think Ariens should have been more accommodating over Muslim prayer times?