Hertz suspends 34 Muslim drivers for praying on the job

Abu Talib

Feeling low
In the three years she's worked as a shuttle driver for Hertz at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Zainab Aweis, had always taken time out of her shift each day to pray.

An observant Muslim, she prays five times a day — with one, sometimes two of those prayer times falling during her shift.

"That was the one benefit of the job," the 20-year-old said.

On Friday, she and 33 other drivers — all of them Somali Muslims — were suspended indefinitely from their jobs after they took religious breaks to pray while at work without first clocking out.

A spokesman for Teamsters Local 117, which represents the workers, said it is trying to get the workers back on the job.

Both the company and the union late Thursday said they were waiting to hear back from the other.

While the drivers were allowed two, 10-minute breaks during their work shifts during which they could pray, Teamsters officials said managers had agreed in negotiations that workers would not have to clock out and in, though the contract itself does not address the matter.

And the workers and their union said Hertz had previously not required that workers clock out for prayer. The union said it has filed an unfair-labor-practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against Hertz for failing to notify the union in advance of what it called a policy change.

But Hertz said the rules aren't new; that it had been trying for some time to enforce the terms of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settlement it reached with the workers two years ago that required them to clock out.

A Hertz spokesman said the workers had been repeatedly told they needed to clock out and that the 34 suspended workers had not complied.

"We felt it was reasonable for our Muslim employees who need to pray a couple times during the workday to clock in and clock out," said Rich Broome, spokesman for Hertz.

Broome said it's not about pay — break time is paid time — but to ensure that workers were staying within the 10-minute time slots, which has been a problem.

He pointed out that Muslim workers who clocked out were not suspended.

On Wednesday, a few dozen people from area labor and faith organizations protested on behalf of the workers outside the Hertz counter at the airport, waving signs saying, "Respect me, Respect my religion."

The Teamsters represents about 79 drivers at Hertz — about 70 percent of whom are Muslim — earning between $9.15 and $9.95 an hour. They receive no health benefits, vacation or sick leave.

Aweis said she was not aware the rules had changed until she arrived at work on Friday and managers told her and six other women who were about to pray that several other workers had been sent home that day for praying.

"He said, 'If you guys pray, you go home,' " Aweis recalled.

"I said, 'Is that a new rule?' And he said, 'yes.' "

They prayed anyway, she said, contending that managers stood over them taunting and disrupting them.

"I like the job," Aweis said. "But if I can't pray, I don't see the benefit."

Mohamed Hassan, of the Somali Community Services Coalition, said the workers cannot afford to be away from their jobs. "They need to pay rent and buy food for their children."



Junior Member

I disagree with the muslims strongly in this case.

The way we have done it is either we do it on our given 15 minute breaks or our lunch hour. On Fridays we ask for an additional few minutes of being late back from lunch which we made up by staying extra time.

They are not being fare to themselves and the company. If they have to work harder or stay extra time at work that would of made the company look the other way.

Remember, muslims in America are a very small minority.



by law, muslims have the right to pray while at work. however, they cannot make it so where it gratly inconveniences the company. if they are going to pray, they have to do just that. it can't be pray then talk eat etc. by law they are not to punch out to perform prayer because it would equal discrimination, because an employer is causing the employee to lose pay just because of a person's religious convictions, while letting other employees that have no religions convictions get full pay.

the muslims may have a hard case because there are so many of them, and if the numbers are large enough, letting 30 or more people on break at the same times for a few minutes and then for an hour so on friday, would indeed create a hardship for the company. what i do fear from all of this is that the employer, although they will be discreet about, will begin to not hire any muslims in the future due to this.

think about this also: smokers have numerous breaks off the clock and are usually not suspended of fired for it.


Junior Member
Apparently the problem arose from a lack of clear communication and consistency between the company and the union. Although the drivers were allowed two 10-minute breaks, there was apparently an understanding, though not specified in the contract, that they would not have to go out to pray. Hertz, however, claims that this requirement was part of a settlement agreement reached with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission two years ago. I've heard that they could also take away your driver's license, if anything you can get a new driver's license fast with this url. It is crucial for both sides to come to a solution that respects the religious rights of employees while ensuring the smooth operation of the company. It is important to find a middle ground in which workers can take religious breaks without compromising productivity or fairness.