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Hertz suspends 34 Muslim shuttle-bus drivers in prayer dispute

October 7, 2011 |  4:12 pm

Somali_muslim_driver 
Should Muslims have to clock out when they pray? That question arose earlier this week when 34 Muslim shuttle bus drivers were suspended indefinitely by Hertz Rent-A-Car for not clocking out when they went to pray.

The suspended drivers, who work for Hertz at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, are all Somali Muslims.

The mass suspension occurred Sept. 30 and has caused heated debate in the Seattle area. Now, the story has been picked up by the national news media.

Earlier this week, a couple of dozen people assembled in front of the Hertz office with signs that read "Hertz hurts my faith" and "Hertz: Respect me, respect my religion."

The company defends its actions.

Under Washington state law, employees are entitled to two paid 10-minute breaks during an eight-hour shift. Religious Muslims pray five times a day, and it takes between three and five minutes to perform the prayers. On a normal day, workers would pray once or twice during a shift.

In a statement sent to The Times, a Hertz spokesperson wrote: "While the employees, all Muslims, were using the breaks for prayers, the breaks were typically extended long beyond the time necessary to complete religious obligations, which is why the company, to be fair to all of its employees in Seattle, implemented the clocking requirement."

The company said employees were warned in person and in writing that if they did not comply with the clocking rules, they would be suspended.

But Tracey A. Thompson, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local  117 Union (which is representing the workers), said in a statement: “This is an outrageous assault on the rights of these workers and appears to be discriminatory based on their religious beliefs.”

The Teamsters said the implementation of the clocking rule represented a sudden policy shift on the part of Hertz management.

In the same statement, Maryan Muse, a five-year Hertz employee, is quoted as saying that Hertz managers made fun of her and her Muslim colleagues as they prayed.

Ahmed Jama, executive director of the Somali Community Services Coalition, told The Times that the issue of Muslims praying at work comes up frequently.

He expects it might be a couple of weeks before the two sides might come to an agreement.

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-- Deborah Netburn

Image: Zainab Aweis, 20, a Somali Muslim, was one of the people suspended indefinitely by Hertz for praying without clocking out first. Credit: Ken Lambert / Associated Press

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