What to Do About Muslim Workers

Anyone familiar with snow blowers and lawn tractors should also be acquainted with the brand name Ariens. The company produces tractors, snow blowers, and slew of accessories at about 20 plants worldwide. But the majority of the manufacturing takes place right here in the good old U.S. of A. Who says nobody in the U.S. makes anything anymore?

As any manufacturer in the U.S. knows, due to taxes and overregulation, it’s difficult enough to produce anything and still make a profit. Companies have to deal with the IRS, OSHA, the EPA – as well as employment-related issues. But the CEO of Ariens, Dan Ariens, has discovered a new potential headache – Muslims.

And this problem, which has recently been exposed at the Ariens plant/headquarters in Brillion, Wisconsin, is one that many other American companies will more than likely have to contend with as more and more Muslims immigrate to America.

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Devout Muslims are required to pray five times a day, and their religion specifies the times they are to do so. “They have to have clean bodies and carry out the prayers at daybreak, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and evening and each prayer lasts five minutes.” 

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All 800 employees at the Brillion plant get two ten-minute breaks a day, but they don’t coincide the 53 Muslims’ specific prayer times. And it’s not as if they just drop on the floor in front of their equipment. The 53 all assemble in a specified area of the over 350,000 sq. ft. factory, which means it takes them time to get there, pray, and get back to their stations.

So ten minute breaks turn into 20. Ariens says, “It just throws 800 people in disarray. Think of the unfairness. Everybody gets two ten minute breaks, but some additional 50 people are getting more breaks of maybe five or twenty minutes, but the 53 Muslims, mostly from Somalia and arrived at the plant last summer, say they cannot ignore the requirements of their religion which specifies the times that they must turn towards Mecca and prostrate to Allah.”

Ariens has been patient, but after it has been revealed that these additional breaks are costing the company “about a million dollars per year,” he has been forced to insist that the 53 Muslims conform to the policy they agreed to upon being hired.

And it’s not just the bottom line he’s worried about. Other non-Muslims employees have started complaining that they must pick up the slack for the absent Muslims. It’s that or the assembly line just shuts down several times a day. “Let’s say an assembly line has ten people on it,” says Ariens. “If two walk off the job, the other eight are standing there because they work in a sequence. It is impossible and it is not a free for all. We work as a team.”

And it’s not as if the relatively new hires where unaware of the company policy of two breaks per day – they knew the day of their hire. But rather than accept the long-standing policy, the 53 Muslims walked off the job.

“One worker who walked out says he and his fellow Muslims are being forced to choose between work and faith.” And to that, I would add that this is America, where you are free to leave your current place of employment and seek a job elsewhere – that may allow you to better practice your religion. Ariens is not forcing you to work under his “harsh” conditions. You are not indentured.

One of the longest serving Islamic workers, however, claims some of his fellow Muslims were using the prayers as an excuse to avoid work. “I know that some of the people were taking the time not to pray, as they were not really practicing Muslims,” says 67-year-old Bashir Mahamed.

So Ariens has given them until January 25 to come back to work and conform to policy or find other employment.

An Imam at a Mosque in Green Bay says, “If this company does this, other bosses around America could see this as an excuse to get rid of its employees. This is a dangerous situation for us in this country.”

But what else is Ariens to do? And what is “dangerous” about it? Nothing, of course, unless one is purposely trying to stir unrest. Ariens is doing the right thing, regardless of the faith of these 53. His loyalty must be to his company. If he tolerates and accepts this disruption, we all know it will just escalate.

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