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Originally published October 20, 2011 at 10:10 PM | Page modified October 21, 2011 at 5:17 PM

Hertz fires 25 Muslim drivers who refuse to clock out

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 — were among 34 employees suspended Sept. 30 for failing to clock out before breaks.

Seattle Times staff reporter

quotes If these folks can't follow simple rules, then they should be fired. Good for Hertz. Read more
quotes There's no hate here, just a recognition that these fine folk need to learn how to play... Read more
quotes Good job Hertz. I had the same issue with Somali Muslims at a previous job... Read more

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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 (EEOC).

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.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com

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