A week ago, Hertz Rent-a-Car suspended 34 Muslim employees indefinitely for praying without clocking out. The drivers, who are all Somali Muslims, work for Hertz at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, for $10 an hour with no benefits.
Workers are allowed two paid 10-minute breaks during an eight-hour shift under Washington state law. Religious Muslims pray five times a day; workers prayed once or twice a day on their shifts. But Hertz spokesperson Rick Broome said that managers were concerned the prayers could “get out of hand” and warned the Muslim workers both in person and in writing that they would be suspended, unless they agreed to follow the clocking rules. Saying that the company felt it has to be “fair to all of its employees in Seattle,” Hertz said that the “breaks were typically extended long beyond the time necessary to complete religious obligations.”
“I don’t know what conclusion to draw except that this is based on religious discrimination.”
The Seattle Weekly provides more details:
According to Thompson, the contested prayer sessions took place on a rug behind a barrier in the garage where Hertz keeps its cars. She says the union has timed the prayers, and they take four to five minutes. (Broome says they’re longer.) Most of the year, the workers pray twice during an eight-hour shift, but on special occasions they’ll add another prayer. To compensate for their time on the prayer rug, they forego the twice daily 10-minute breaks that employees are entitled to.
Thompson says Hertz has long accepted this practice. And last year, she says, the company verbally agreed during negotiations that workers would not clock out for prayer breaks, even though all employees are required to punch in and out for regular breaks and meal times.
Broome denied that such an agreement was the case and emphasized the company’s fear that the workers would take long prayer breaks of 40 minutes or so. The workers’ contract does not actually spell out whether they are required to clock out for “mini breaks,” as the prayer breaks are referred to.
The workers themselves said that they do not want to clock out during prayer breaks because they do not wish to be monitored while doing so. But five-year-Hertz employee Maryan Muse says that Hertz management has indeed watched the workers praying:
“[The Hertz manager] stood in front of the prayer room with his arms fully extended,” employee Maryan Muse is quoted as saying in a union press release. “We managed to get into the prayer room, but while we were praying, they [Hertz management] were laughing and clapping their hands, mocking us.”
Broome says that the suspended workers will not be taken back “until they agreed to follow the rules.” But it certainly doesn’t look like Hertz itself is playing by the rules — about not discriminating on the basis of religious belief.
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