Hertz has terminated 26 Muslim employees out of the 34 that were suspended on Sept. 30, according to Rich Bloome, Hertz Corporation spokesperson. Teamsters Local Union 117 says it has only received 25 termination notices, according to Paul Zilly, spokesperson for Local 117.

The employees — whether it’s 25 or 26 — had been terminated because there was “widespread abuse” of their paid breaks, according to Hertz. The breaks are those mandated by state law that gives two 10-minute breaks to employees in an 8-hour day.

The breaks can also be taken in smaller increments of five or more, as long as it equals 20 minutes. According to Local 117, this typically is the type of break the Muslim workers take for purposes of praying.

Employee memos from February, which Auto Rental News obtained through Local 117, had read that, according to collective bargaining agreements, “employees must ‘clock’ in and out for all rest and meal breaks.” However, the memo also states that, “If you intend to take five or more breaks, you do not have to punch, but you must notify your senior and/or dispatch at the beginning and end of each break.”

In a memo posted Sept. 30, the same day the 34 workers were suspended, the notice on breaks changed slightly, “Per the CBA, all rest and meal periods must be punched, including all religious observation. Failure to punch for a rest period will result in progressive disciplinary action up to and including termination.” This newest memo doesn’t mention that people taking breaks broken up into at least five sessions aren’t required to clock in and out.

This latest memo and the subsequent suspension and then termination of Muslim employees are where the union claims Hertz is violating the workers’ contracts.

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.”

Hertz maintains that requirements in the Sept. 30 notice are part of the collective bargaining agreement. “It is important to note that the 26 unionized employees were only terminated after repeatedly rejecting offers to return to work subject to the clocking requirement, which is part of the transporters' collective bargaining agreement,” said Hertz in an official press statement.

The remaining workers out of the 34, have returned because they “have agreed to come back to work, joining several of their Muslim colleagues who previously agreed to clock out for their breaks,” the Hertz statement reads.

Local 117 will challenge the terminations through the contractual grievance and arbitration process; it has also filed several “Unfair Labor Practice” charges with the National Labor Relations Board and is filing religious discrimination complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The union also plans to file for wrongful discrimination with the Washington State Human Rights Commission.

“Hertz has violated our contract, violated labor laws, and even violated their own internal policy by not adhering to the principle of progressive discipline when workers were suspended without warning,” Thompson said in a union press release from Oct. 20. “Hertz then fired these workers after giving them an unconscionable ultimatum: choose between your livelihood and your dignity.”

- By Joanne Tucker