Hertz fires 25 Muslim drivers who refuse to clock out

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SEATTLE — Hertz has sent termination letters to 25
drivers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after they refused to
agree to clock out for daily breaks, during which they normally pray.

The
workers — all Somali Muslims who drive the company’s rental cars to and
from the airport for cleaning and refueling — were among 34 Hertz
employees suspended Sept. 30 for failing to clock out before breaks.

The
rental-car company at the time said some of the workers were taking
longer than the 10 minutes allowed. The workers usually take two paid
breaks during a regular eight-hour shift.

Nine of the 34 suspended drivers signed the agreement and have returned to their jobs, the company said.

Officials
with Teamsters Local 117, which represents the workers, said the two
sides had tried to negotiate an agreement that would have allowed the
workers to return to their pre-suspension status, under which they
wouldn’t have to clock out to pray.

But they were unable to agree.

Paul Zilly, spokesman for the union, said the workers were given an ultimatum to sign the document to clock out.

“They
were debating, going back and forth,” he said. “They all felt it was a
contractual violation.” He said that if Hertz believed certain employees
were abusing the break policies, then it should have dealt with them
individually, rather than penalizing an entire group.

“There may have been some taking longer than 10 minutes, but why single out the entire group based on their religion?”

A
Hertz spokesman said many of the workers had been with the company for
15 years, and Hertz went out of its way to accommodate all of them,
setting up a prayer room at the airport site.

The
company had made it clear to the suspended workers that if they wanted
to be reinstated they needed to agree to the clock-out conditions by the
end of the day Thursday, said spokesman Rich Broome.

“We’re
disappointed that the rest of the transporters did not take us up on
what we thought was a reasonable resolution of this matter — reserving
their right to pray during paid breaks,” Broome said.

“We felt clocking out is a fair way to maintain order while keeping our operations running smoothly.”

The Teamsters represents about 79 Hertz drivers who earn between $9.15 and $9.95 an hour. Most are Muslim.

All company employees are allowed two paid 10-minute breaks during an eight-hour shift — time they can use however they choose.

The
Teamsters said the requirement for workers to clock out for that break
is not in the contact and the firm had agreed during negotiations last
year it would not require it.

The union said the
company implemented a unilateral change on the day it suspended the
drivers without first negotiating with the union, a contractual
violation.

The union has filed grievances against
Hertz with the National Labor Relations Board and said it’s filing
religious discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission.

Broome said the company and the
workers had reached an EEOC settlement two years ago, in which workers
agreed they would clock out for their two breaks.

The
company had been informing workers that they needed to clock out for
some time before finally posting a notice to that effect on the day they
were suspended.

Those who clocked out on that day were not suspended, the company said.

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©2011 The Seattle Times

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