Thirty-four Muslim shuttle drivers for Hertz have been suspended for praying on the job in Seattle.

Zainab Aweis is an observant Muslim who prays five times a day and says her two prayer breaks at work have never been a problem before.

“That was the one benefit of the job,” said the 20-year-old driver at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

But at some point, employees claim the rules changed and Aweis and her other Somali Muslim co-workers were suspended indefinitely for taking their usual prayer breaks without first clocking out.

A company spokesperson says Hertz has been complying with an earlier agreement made with Teamsters Local 117, which represents the workers, allowing Muslims two, 10-minute breaks each day to pray, but has also been trying to enforce the terms of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settlement that requires them to clock out.

The union contract does not address the issue of clocking out, but the union claims that Hertz agreed not to require the workers to clock out, while Hertz claims the rules aren’t new and workers have been told repeatedly that they need to clock out.

Rich Broome, a spokesperson for Hertz, said, “We felt it was reasonable for our Muslim employees who need to pray a couple times during the workday to clock in and clock out.” He went on to say that it’s not about pay, since break time is paid time, but that they’ve had problems with workers staying within the allotted break periods.

He also indicated that Muslim employees who had clocked out were not suspended.

The union has filed a complaint against Hertz with the National Labor Relations Board for failing to notify the union and workers in advance of what it is calling a policy change.

At this time, both the Teamsters union and officials at Hertz are trying to get the employees back to work, but say they are waiting to hear from the other side.

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