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Hertz workers mocked, suspended for praying

The following was distributed Wednesday by Teamsters Local 117:

Hertz Rent-a-Car has suspended at least 35 workers at SeaTac Airport for exercising their right to pray.  Hertz initiated the mass suspensions on Friday and targeted Shuttlers, who are responsible for transporting rental cars from Hertz’s headquarters to and from the airport.  Approximately 70% of the Shuttlers employed by Hertz at the airport are Muslim.

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“This is an outrageous assault on the rights of these workers and appears to be discriminatory based on their religious beliefs,” said Tracey A. Thompson, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117.

At a meeting with union officials Monday evening, the suspended workers described a hostile work environment, in which Hertz management engaged in favoritism of non-Muslim workers and displayed disrespect for workers’ cultural customs and religious practices.

In one instance, a Hertz manager attempted to block a group of seven Somali women from accessing a designated prayer room.

“He stood in front of the prayer room with his arms fully extended.  He said, ‘If you go and pray, I’m going to send you home.’ We managed to get into the prayer room, but while we were praying, they (Hertz management) were laughing and clapping their hands, mocking us,” said Maryan Muse, a 5-year Hertz employee.

The company began suspending workers on Friday after unilaterally implementing a change in working conditions requiring the Shuttlers to clock out when they pray.

Muslim workers at Hertz have a longstanding practice of taking mini-breaks during their shift to pray.  Workers said that, during an 8-hour shift, they generally pray twice and that it typically takes between three to five minutes.  Under Washington State law, employees are entitled to two 10-minute breaks in an eight-hour shift.

Union officials said that the company agreed in bargaining last year that its employees would not be required to clock out when they pray.

“I have been working at the airport for 16 years and have never been required to clock out when I take my break to pray.  I believe that Hertz is specifically singling us out because of our religion,” said Asha Farah.

On Tuesday, Teamsters Local 117 filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the NLRB, alleging that Hertz is in violation of federal labor law in the case.  The union is also considering filing a wrongful discrimination complaint with the Washington State Human Rights Commission over the issue.

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