Hertz rental car company has indefinitely suspended 34 Somali Muslim shuttle drivers at its Seattle-Tacoma International Airport location, claiming the drivers' conducted their traditional, multiple daily prayers while on the company clock. Observant Muslims pray five times per day.
According to a report in Forbes, Hertz reasoned that the employees violated provisions of a collective bargaining agreement and a settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reached two years ago, requiring employees to clock-out prior to engaging in personal activities -- in this case, reciting prayers.
But that didn't stop Teamsters Local 117, which represents the workers, from filing an unfair-labor-practices suit with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging Hertz failed to give the union advance notice of the policy change.
"This is an outrageous assault on the rights of these workers and appears to be discriminatory based on their religious beliefs," Tracey A. Thompson, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 117, said in a statement.
"Prayer is not as other people take it," said Ileys Omar, who has been with Hertz four years and is the union's shop steward. "It's important for us, if you take prayer away, you're taking a part of our lives ... to be honest, we feel like we're being punished for praying, for being Muslim."
Omar, a 24-year-old mother of a 3-year-old and expecting a second child, said the company changed its rules suddenly. She understood that management allowed Muslims to take "mini-breaks" to pray, and didn't have to clock out.
Meanwhile, Hertz spokesman Rich Broome stated, "The breaks were getting extended way beyond prayer time."
"It's important to understand that several Muslim employees who are complying were not suspended. It's not about prayer, it's not about religion; it's about reasonable requirements."
Broome claims managers spoke with the workers and posted the rule before suspensions took place. He also asserts Muslim workers who clocked-out to conduct their rituals were not suspended.