Hertz has fired 26 of its drivers at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after the workers opted against clocking out for their Muslim prayer sessions.
The drivers, all of whom are Somali Muslims, saw the company's decision as a failure to appreciate the customs of the Islamic faith.
"We feel like we're being punished for what we believe in," Ileys Omar, one of the former Hertz employees, told local TV news outlet KOMO. "It's five minutes. It's not as big [of a] deal as the company's making it."
Hertz, for its part, says the termination was in fact a last resort after the car company sought to respect the workers' faith. Hertz says it was happy to accommodate the Muslim ritual of five daily prayers. But the company asked the workers to clock in and out after noting the workers failed to return immediately to work after finishing the sessions, company spokesman Richard Broome told CBS News. And when Hertz initially suspended 34 workers on Sept. 30 over the prayer breaks, the company presented them with the plan to include the sessions in their daily time cards. Eight agreed to do so, and have since been reinstated.
"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 put it plainly to The Seattle Times. Broome also added to CBS that such terms derive from a settlement from two years ago with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hertz was simply looking to enforce the policy agreed upon with the EEOC, it says.
Through their union representation, the fired workers took issue with the manner in which they were being dealt with by the car company. According to a report in The Seattle Times, representatives from the Local Teamsters Union 117 said that the workers would have preferred to have been approached individually but instead were presented with what they viewed as a contractual ultimatum.
In total, the Teamsters represent roughly 79 workers at the airport's Hertz office. They earn roughly $9.15 to $9.95 an hour. They work without benefits. Many of them are Muslim immigrants, and have been with the company for 15 years. Over that time, Hertz set up a prayer room at the airport for the workers.
The union will look to next file formal complaints charging both unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, and religious discrimination with the EEOC.
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