ABC News reports that Hertz Car Rental Company fired more than two dozen Muslim workers at their Seattle-Tacoma airport location for refusing to clock out while taking prayer breaks during their shift.
Hertz reportedly sent termination notices to 26 Somali Muslim workers on October 20th after they and eight others had been suspended on September 30th for failing to clock out for breaks. The workers union, Teamsters Local 117, says that the termination is unfair and is targeting the employees for their religion. Tracey Thompson, Secretary-Treasurer of the union, noted that while the employer was saying that the workers were not fired for their religion, “this is only enforced policy with respect to prayer breaks. I’m quite certain people take many, many smoking breaks or go across the street to get coffee. But when they singled out this group of workers when they are engaging in prayer, it is hard to make it about anything other than religion.”
The drivers were notified on September 30th, the day they were suspended, of a new policy stating that they must clock out for all rest periods including religious observations. Paul Zilly, spokesman for the union, said, “Hertz didn’t provide a verbal or written warning and jumped right to suspension.” Zilly said that the company should have sat down with the union to negotiate rather than going directly to an ultimatum.
MSNBC reports that Hertz spokesman Rich Broome said in an email that “the failure of many employees to return to work promply after prayers had created an unmanageable, unfair work environment.” He said that workers were given until the end of the day on October 20th to sign the clock-out agreement, and eight of the suspended workers did, returning to their jobs. Termination letters were sent to those that would not sign the agreement. Broome said that the abuse “had become a significant problem creating issues of fairness among employees.”
All Hertz employees are allowed two paid ten-minute breaks during any eight-hour shift, and can use that time however they choose. “We’re disappointed that the rest of the transporters did not take us up on what we thought was a reasonable resolution of this matter – reserving their right to pray during paid breaks,” Broome said.
KOMO News reported that “Hertz said that clocking out is required for all breaks, and it is now enforcing that policy to prevent abuse. The union says it is fighting the terminations through grievance and arbitration procedures and is also filing unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board as well as religious discrimination complaints with the EEOC.”