Zainab Aweis and 33 others were suspended from work for taking too long to pray and not clocking out
Thirty-four Muslim bus drivers were suspended from their jobs
by Hertz for taking too long to pray. At issue is whether or not the employees of Hertz, who work at the Seattle airport, were supposed to clock in and clock out for their breaks to pray. Hertz maintains that they were required to clock out because many of them were running over the allotted ten-minute breaks, but the suspended Muslim employees and their union said they were unaware of the requirement.
The union, Teamsters Local 177, said the issue of clocking out and in for prayers was not addressed in a contract, but Hertz said the rule was established in a 2009 Equal Employment Opportunity settlement (.DOC), and that Muslim employees who had clocked out and in were not suspended. “Unfortunately, some of these prayer breaks have extended way too long and we felt like it’s important to have procedures for prayers to continue and not have the privilege be abused,” said a Hertz spokesperson.
The union maintains they were not notified when the rule change went into effect on September 30, and that the suspensions are about some of the Muslim employees practicing their faith. The union Secretary-Treasurer Tracy Thompson told CBS Seattle:
They’ve clearly made it about the religious exercise here and that’s where we have a number of problems. They’ve violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, let alone these people’s right to exercise their religious rights during the day.
Irrespective of the debate over the rule change and just how long these bus drivers were taking to do their prayers, one of the suspended Muslim employees, Zainab Aweis, told the Seattle Times about an unpleasant encounter around the suspensions:
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.”
The union’s complaint (PDF) to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cited this “intimidat(ion),” not the issue of clocking out and in:
On Wednesday, October 5, 2011, the Employer engaged in surveillance of employees engaging in concerted protected activity at the Seattle airport. The surveillance was intended to, and did, intimidate the employees.
It’s unclear how long the NLRB will take to resolve the dispute, but for now the drivers, who are paid under ten dollars an hour and get no health insurance, paid sick days or paid vacation days, will remain suspended.