In August 2008, the Shelbyville, Tennessee, Times-Gazette reported that beginning in
Tyson Foods issued a press release about the issue, which noted that the change in holidays applied only to a single processing plant and was accommodated as part of a union-initiated contract demand:
Contrary to recent reports, Labor Day is still a holiday at Tyson Foods. This issue concerns only the plant at Shelbyville, TN. The majority of employees at the Tyson plant in Shelbyville, TN, are represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores Union (RWDSU), an American union that asked for and received
Eid al-Fitras one of their eight paid holidays in place of Labor Day. This applies only to the Shelbyville plant and resulted as part of the union contract negotiated last fall. This change does not apply to Tyson Foods' other 118 plants.This is not a religious accommodation, rather, it is part of a union-initiated contract demand.
This change came about as a result of union demands brought to the negotiating table, and was agreed upon by Tyson in an effort to reach a contractual agreement with the union. The contract that calls for this change was unanimously recommended by the
12-personunion bargaining committee, which included three Somali employees. The contract was then overwhelmingly agreed to by 80 percentof the rank and file membership of the union at the Shelbyville plant.
The Muslim population at the Shelbyville plant is primarily composed of approximately
250 Somaliemployees, who are political refugees, most of whom came to the plant as a result of refugee resettlement efforts based in Nashville. They were employed at the plant through the Tennessee Department of Employment Security office.
The Shelbyville complex employs approximately 1,200 people. Approximately 1,000 workers are covered by the union agreement at Shelbyville.
Several days later, however, Tyson issued another press release announcing that the company had reached a new agreement with the union that reinstated Labor Day as a paid holiday and provided employees with a personal holiday which could be taken either for an employee's birthday or for
Tyson Foods, Inc. announced today it has reached a new agreement with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), an American union, reinstating Labor Day as one of the designated paid holidays under the contract for covered employees in the Shelbyville, Tennessee, plant.
Tyson made this request on behalf of its Shelbyville plant employees, some of whom had expressed concern about the new contract provisions relative to paid holidays. In an effort to be responsive, Tyson asked the union to reopen the contract to address the holiday issue, and the union agreed to do so. The union membership voted overwhelmingly Thursday to reinstate Labor Day as one of the plant’s paid holidays, while keeping
Eid al-Fitras an additional paid holiday for this year only. This means that in 2008 only, Shelbyville employees will have nine paid holidays.
For the remainder of the five-year contract period, the eight paid holidays will include:
New Year'sDay, Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and a Personal Holiday, which could either be the employee's birthday, Eid al-Fitr or another day requested and approved by their supervisor.
Brian Mosely, the reporter who wrote the original article about this topic for the Times-Gazette, observed in a
I even asked for a clarification at the request of my editor and Tyson again confirmed it.
"Eid al-Fitris one of eight paid holidays for all Team Members covered by the contract, while Labor Day is not a paid holiday," Tyson's Director of Media Relations Gary Mickelson stated in an e-mail.
So we printed it. It only took a little over an hour for the Associated Press to pick it up. But this time, our local story did not go on the state wire, as it normally would, but was instead placed on the AP financial wire.
Within hours, a crew from WSMV was being chased away from the Tyson plant and by
5 p.m.Friday evening, it was on television.
But that was nothing compared what else was happening with the story.
News sites, blogs and discussion forums all over the Internet were picking up the story like crazy over the weekend. A close friend called to tell me that it was the top subject on
99.7 FM,our area's biggest talk radio station.
And with very few exceptions, the reaction was very much like what has been seen on our website: People calling for a boycott of Tyson Foods along with outraged letters to the company and the union involved. Many point out how Christian beliefs are being sidelined in the workplace and schools while another faith is given special consideration.
Then there is the inevitable linkage to Islam in general and its more radical elements. Or linking the story to whatever agenda a person may have. One animal rights activist even sent me links to graphic videos containing animal sacrifices conducted for another Islamic festival. Another blog sought to connect the controversy to Barack Obama, since the union in question in this story has endorsed the presidential candidate.
So now, for good or ill, our little local situation concerning the Somali refugees is a hot nationwide topic. As of this writing, the story still continues to spread like a virus through the Internet and the media food chain.
Tyson Foods currently summarizes the issue on their web site with a notice informing readers that the issue was a brief and temporary one that occurred several years ago:
Outdated, misleading information about Tyson employee holidays has surfaced on the Internet. Contrary to recently circulated reports, Tyson does NOT offer its workers a paid Muslim holiday at any location.
A labor union vote briefly changed the Labor Day holiday at the company’s Shelbyville, Tennessee, poultry plant in 2008. Tyson Foods did not initiate the change and immediately negotiated with the union to reinstate Labor Day as a paid holiday, resolving the matter more than three years ago.
Labor Day continues to be one of the paid holidays for Team Members at all of the company’s U.S. plants.