Hertz workers: We were suspended because of our religion

Hertz workers: We were suspended because of our religion »Play Video
SEA-TAC AIRPORT -- Dozens of workers at Sea-Tac Airport say they're being punished because they pray.

The employees at Hertz Rental Cars have been suspended without pay, and they don't know when they'll be allowed back to work.

The company say it's in no way trying infringe on anyone's religious rights; it says it has no problem with its workers praying on the job. But those workers say they're being targeted.

Thirty four Hertz workers have been suspended. They're Muslim, most of them Somali and all allege the company has suspended them because they need to pray at least twice during their eight-hour workday.

"When I performed my prayer daily, they sent me home," said one worker. "When I asked some of my managers why they did this, (the said), 'We're sending you because you prayed."'

The workers say the suspensions were announced last Friday. There was no warning, they said.

"They just want to do whatever they want, and that's not going to work because there's a union between us and the company," said worker Abdullahi Abdirahman.

The workers are shuttlers; they move rental cars back and forth between the airport garage and Hertz main parking lot. It's a job some have held on to for many years.

Hertz says this is not about religious persecution, but about following the rules laid out in the worker's collective bargaining agreement.

The company released a copy of a 2009 document, which says employees need to clock-out during their two, 10-minute breaks each day. Hertz says it suspended the workers at Sea-Tac because they were not doing that.

But the Teamsters Local 117 says a new agreement reached one year ago with Hertz says the exact opposite.

"Very clearly it was understood that the Muslim employees would not be required to clock in and out for their breaks," said Tracey Thompson of Teamsters Local 117. "They just take what are intermittent breaks. They go pray, they get a cup of tea, and they would not be required to clock out."

The union says Hertz is looking for ways to get around what was agreed to, and this is the first time Hertz has taken this action with its workers at the airport. The union claims the company leveled the suspensions without consulting the union first.

"The day they sent us home, they don't tell anything to the union," said worker Asha Farrah. "We have contract for three years, starting last October."

The union said it would provide a copy of the latest agreement with Hertz, but it has not yet done so.