More than 30 Somali employees at a bakery walked out in protest Monday after the owner ordered female workers to wear mid-calf skirts after a woman's long dress recently got caught in a boot washer, MyFoxTwinCities.com reported.
Mike Knowles, the owner of Dianne's Fine Desserts, told the Faribault Daily News that the new guidelines were installed for safety concerns. Somali workers, however, call the new rules an attack on their Muslim religion.
The women reportedly showed up to work in their full-length attire and were given the option to adjust their skirts or leave. About a dozen women left and they were joined by 20 men who say the dress code goes against teachings in the Koran.
The boot washer is a sanitation device that cleans footwear before workers enter the plant. The Somali women said they'd be willing to pull up their skirts during the brief process. Knowles says the safety issue was addressed and the company made a reasonable accommodation.
The workers sought assistance from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which came to the aid of 25 Muslim employees who were terminated in December 2010, the report said.
At the time, the business was under a different owner who fired the employees after the break schedule was altered into a conflict with employees' prayer schedule, the report said. But employees reportedly prayed anyway.
A complaint was forwarded to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the workers were reinstated.
The current walkout also has been brought to the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Considering that he is faced with a potentially damaging industrial dispute, in a plant that has already been reported to the EEOC for religious discrimination, owner Mike Knowles appears to be far from clear about the details of the present conflict.
He told the Faribault Daily News that his company "addressed the safety issue by saying no skirts below the knee" but then informed Fox that management at the plant had "later agreed to boot-high or mid-calf skirts". Knowles claims that employees "chose to walk off the job", yet is is clear from the Faribault Daily News report that women workers who refused to comply with the new dress code were prevented from starting work and told to leave the building. A number of male employees, to their credit, then walked out in solidarity.