Oct. 7, 2011 at 11:12 AM ET
More than 30 Seattle-area Hertz shuttle drivers are without work in a clash over Muslim prayer, the Seattle Times reported Friday.
Hertz has "suspended indefinitely" 33 drivers — all of them observant Muslims who work out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Hertz contends the drivers are taking prayer breaks without clocking out first.
According to the Seattle Times:
While the drivers were allowed two, 10-minute breaks during their work shifts during which they could pray, Teamsters officials said managers had agreed in negotiations that workers would not have to clock out and in, though the contact itself does not address the matter.
And the workers and their union said Hertz had previously not required that workers clock out for prayer. The union said it has filed an unfair-labor-practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against Hertz for failing to notify the union in advance of what it called a policy change.
But Hertz said the rules aren't new; that it had been trying for some time to enforce the terms of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settlement it reached with the workers two years ago that required them to clock out.
A Hertz spokesman said the workers had been repeatedly told they needed to clock out and that the suspended workers had not complied.
The suspended drivers are members of Teamsters Local 117, which is attempting to get the workers back in their shuttle vans.
“The company clearly is violating the intent of the contract and the actual language of the contract,” said Tracey A. Thompson, secretary-treasurer of Local 117. “This is like having workers clock in and out for smoke breaks or bathroom breaks.”
Thompson, who was at the negotiating table in the last round of contact talks, said that this issue was discussed at length by both sides and they had a clear understanding – and contract language – that protected the workers from punishment for prayer breaks.
Rich Broome, a spokesman for Hertz, told msnbc.com that Muslim drivers who clocked out to pray were not suspended and that the company was trying to be fair to all workers.
In the meantime, the suspended workers have not been told when – or if – they will be able to return to their jobs.