by Ed Nicholson
It’s been kind of a crazy week here in the Tyson PR group. Here’s why:
Last year, at one of Tyson’s 119 plants, a fresh chicken processing plant in Shelbyville, Tennessee, the RWDSU, the union representing team members at that plant, in contract negotiations, asked for a Ramadan holiday in consideration of the 250 Somali refugees working in the plant. The Tyson folks at the negotiating table said, “Everyone at the company gets eight paid holidays. You’d have to substitute it for one already in place.” The union selected Labor Day as the holiday they wanted to substitute. This wasn’t as surprising as it might seem, since the plant, being a fresh chicken plant had traditionally worked on Labor Day to meet the demand for chicken for the holiday grills. The contract was ratified by union members in the plant.
Someone recently discovered the change, and word got out on the internet that Tyson had allowed a labor union to substitute the American holiday of Labor Day for the Muslim holiday of Eid al Fitr. The response has been truly amazing. Countless emails and phone calls. Hundreds of blog postings, and interest from local, regional and national media. Responses ranged from truly concerned and open-to-dialog, to hateful, ugly, racist, even threatening. Some were supportive . But the thing that impressed most was the level and intensity of anger among some groups.
This was all about a change at one plant, which was requested and approved by the union workers at that plant, and affected less than one percent of the company’s workforce.
In the end, the company recommended, and the union members agreed that the contract be modified to reinstate Labor Day. But the brouhaha over the matter was quite something to witness.
Now, I know that there’s great fear among some folks of the American way of life being threatened by “outsiders.” And I realize that it’s our customers and the public who really decide where the Tyson brand resides. I understand and respect the opinions of those who feel very, very strongly about this issue. This is America. Pride in our country is one of the things that makes it the best country in the world. As do diversity of opinion and the right to free expression.
I’m not writing this to initiate a conversation on the merits of this particular issue. This space is focused on hunger and those who are engaged in the fight against hunger, so anyone who wants to comment on this as its own issue can go to the hundreds of other forums that exist for political discourse.
Here’s the intersection, and what crossed my mind during the days of response to this: What if all of the passion, all of the energy, all of the thinking, arguing and action; all of the use of communications resources, and people’s time and efforts that went into responding to this issue, were used to fight hunger? What if as many people who became so righteously indignant over this were as equally impassioned over the fact that kids in their own communities are going to bed hungry? What if people got angry over the fact that the greatest country in the world has hungry people in every one of its communities? And what if they acted with equal fervor over that anger?
Imagine what could be done.