On Sept. 30, 34 Muslim shuttle drivers were suspended from their jobs at Hertz for taking too long of breaks — typically for praying — outside their two, 10-minute breaks they get legally through the state of Washington. The workers who weren’t clocking out if they exceeded the 10-minute break at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport had been warned repeatedly, according to Hertz spokesperson Rich Broome in a statement Oct. 9.
Broome said other Muslim employees who pray during work and who clock out appropriately have not suspended, making this a nonreligious issue. "Several of our Muslim employees at the Seattle airport are complying and are not affected by the disciplinary action, which undercuts the false contention that this issue is related to prayer or religion," Broome said.
But, Teamsters Local Union 117 is filing a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for “unfair labor practices,” according to an Oct. 5 press release from the union. Local 117 is also considering filing a wrongful discrimination complaint with the Washington State Human Rights Commission over the issue.
According to the Local 117 release, in 2010 the union and Hertz came to a labor agreement stating that the employees weren’t required to clock out for prayer time, which the union says usually takes 3-4 minutes. But Hertz maintains, again, that the suspensions weren’t an issue over religion, “This issue arose when breaks for prayers were extended for unacceptably long periods beyond 10 minutes for nonreligious activities,” Broome said.
The press release from Local 117 states that Hertz management had been engaging in favoritism of the non-Muslim workers while displaying disrespect to the Muslim workers, who account for about 70 percent of the Hertz shuttle drivers at the Seattle airport. But Broome says that Hertz has made efforts for at least 15 years to accommodate its Muslim employees at this agency by creating a space for them to pray.
In a letter to The Seattle Times on Oct. 10, Tracey Thompson, secretary-treasurer for Local 117, wrote, “Setting aside that this policy is unenforceable because it conflicts with our agreement, Hertz did not give the union notice that it intended to implement such a policy or give us an opportunity to bargain over it, as the law requires the company to do.”
According to her letter, the suspended employees have yet to return to work. “Why haven’t these workers been returned to work?” she wrote. “Hertz now claims that this is a simple disciplinary matter. If that is true, then these workers should have been back on the job days ago.”
To read the latest news update on this story, please click here.