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Hertz suspends praying Muslim shuttle drivers

7 October 2011 General 18 Comments Email This Post Email This Post
Zainab Aweis, 20, is one of the Somali Muslim shuttle drivers Hertz suspended for not clocking out during prayer.

Zainab Aweis, 20, is one of the Somali Muslim shuttle drivers Hertz suspended for not clocking out during prayer.

By Lornet Turnbull

Seattle Times staff reporter

In the three years she’s worked as a shuttle driver for Hertz at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Zainab Aweis, had always taken time out of her shift each day to pray.

An observant Muslim, she prays five times a day — with one, sometimes two of those prayer times falling during her shift.

“That was the one benefit of the job,” the 20-year-old said.

On Friday, she and 33 other drivers — all of them Somali Muslims — were suspended indefinitely from their jobs after they took religious breaks to pray while at work without first clocking out.

A spokesman for Teamsters Local 117, which represents the workers, said it is trying to get the workers back on the job.

Both the company and the union late Thursday said they were waiting to hear back from the other.

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 34 suspended workers had not complied.

“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,” said Rich Broome, spokesman for Hertz.

Broome said it’s not about pay — break time is paid time — but to ensure that workers were staying within the 10-minute time slots, which has been a problem.

He pointed out that Muslim workers who clocked out were not suspended.

On Wednesday, a few dozen people from area labor and faith organizations protested on behalf of the workers outside the Hertz counter at the airport, waving signs saying, “Respect me, Respect my religion.”

The Teamsters represents about 79 drivers at Hertz — about 70 percent of whom are Muslim — earning between $9.15 and $9.95 an hour. They receive no health benefits, vacation or sick leave.

Aweis said she was not aware the rules had changed until she arrived at work on Friday and managers told her and six other women who were about to pray that several other workers had been sent home that day for praying.

“He said, ‘If you guys pray, you go home,’ ” Aweis recalled.

“I said, ‘Is that a new rule?’ And he said, ‘yes.’ ”

They prayed anyway, she said, contending that managers stood over them taunting and disrupting them.

“I like the job,” Aweis said. “But if I can’t pray, I don’t see the benefit.”

Mohamed Hassan, of the Somali Community Services Coalition, said the workers cannot afford to be away from their jobs. “They need to pay rent and buy food for their children.”

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or

Original post: Hertz suspends praying Muslim shuttle drivers


  1. Note that Muslim drivers that did punch out for prayers were not suspended.

    Again, play by the rules or find another job, country or planet for that matter.

  2. I reserve judgment until the National Labor Relations Board rules on this.

  3. I think its reasonable to ask them to clock out to pray. I don’t get to take personal time during my job without clocking out and neither should they. That being said, they should of been notified in writing that the policy had changed BEFORE they were suspended. Let them come back with a written notice that any personal time is to be clocked.

  4. Sounds like a he said/she said kind of deal. And that the Teamsters aren’t doing much for these employees–no benefits? I hope this can be cleared up and the drivers returned to work. But I do think that it should be up to the employer to set the rules; when religious views get in the way of doing a job, as in pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control bills on religious grounds, the employee should look for work more conducive to their beliefs. That goes for ALL religions, by the way, including mine (Episcopalian).

  5. Love Them Moonbats is exactly right. The employer has every right not to let them go over their ten minute paid break time. I’m surprised they weren’t all fired for breaking the rules. And what’s the big deal about clocking out to pray? Are you doing work for your employer when you’re praying? No. So why should you get paid for it? This is also unfair to other employees. I used to have a manager who wouldn’t let us take smoke breaks at work, because it meant we got an extra break when our non-smoking co-workers didn’t. And he’s right because we could make those smoke breaks last as long as we wanted them to, just like you could with prayer.

  6. im muslim and honestly…if it’s within the 10 minute break than they should not have been suspended. they needed to have been told with a written statement that the rules or whatever changed. just my opinion though. faith shouldnt have to be put on hold. and this is coming from a former christian who still sees it the same way as before. hope y’all have a nice day.

  7. Aside from any prayer issue, if a taxi driver came by wearing a KKK robe and head covering, I would tell him to just move on, and find someone else or take a bus. Same with this woman. It’s very likely that peripheral vision would be impaired, and a lack of peripheral vision is a major safety issue.

  8. Most rational people would have no problem with clocking in and out if they intended to return on time. In this country employment responsibilities have priority over one’s choice of religious practice.

  9. I’ll have to agree with you guys on this one, they could at least keep it within their time limit. I’m a Muslim and I do what I can to make sure I follow the rules, don’t just take advantage of the rule. It’s not fair to other people

  10. The American flag in the background is hanging wrong. The stars should be on the left. I’m American, Muslim and proud. Tell the photographer he should know better if he is a true patriot he should know how to respect our flag.

    – MW
    Live from Saudia

  11. Or was this a trick of optics? Whatever, sorry if I was wrong, but based on the photo it looks bad for the Sister in the photo.

  12. so muslims call to pray five times a day. is it at a particular set of times everyday?

  13. I’ve got an idea, if they don’t like it they can go back to Somalia and pray to the figment of muhammad’s imagination!

  14. John Haines.

    Maybe you and your parents and grandparents can go back to Europe where they came from. Ellis Island, ring a bell? You don’t have a connection to Ellis Island? Fine, go back to England. Don’t preach to us, k? And you keep telling yourself that. Imagination, ha. The Arab pagans said the same thing to Muhammad. The pharoah to Moses, the Romans to jesus, and so on.


    Yes. Once at Fajr, which is right before dawn, at Thuhr, usually at noon, Asr which is 2 or 3 hours before dusk, Maghrib at sunset, and Isha, late evenings usually.

  15. John Haines

    Forgive me that was rude, but honestly bro, look at your own history. just cause you might be a 5th or 6th generation American doesn’t mean we’re any less than you. I’m a 2nd generation and proud. I love America and I love my roots, and i’m sure many Muslims here do too.

  16. so let’s recap. ambercrombie and fintch has to put hijab where women on the sales floor, even though it doesn’t even come close to fitting into the image they are trying to project. disneyland has to put hijab where women in a hostess job even though it doesn’t come close to fitting into the image they are trying to project. electrolux has to reschedule there production cycle during ramadan to accomodate their muslin employees. the university of michigan, the kansas city, phoniex airports etc. have to but in foot baths. somali cab drivers wouldn’t let helper dogs in there cabs because they think they are jinn? now i may miss a flight because my shuttle driver has to recite some incantation.

    so i guess we need to reshcedule society to fit religious obligations? so if buddist need to meditate 4 times a day and hindus need to burn incense and leave offerings at temples and shinto need to visit their anscestors graves, really. it’s bad enough you can’t get any work done on the friday before easter and that churches mess up traffic patterns on sunday morning and many people have to put up with the blue laws but now all the rest of us need to schedule our flights and buisness meets around religious obligations? so if an employer has a bunch of vietnamese employees, he needs to give them the whole month off around tet? do you have any idea how many religions there are in the world and all the superstitions that come with them?

  17. m2 its called equal rights. disney celebrates diversity so a hijab will only fit into that. ambercrombie and fitch has a huge muslim customer base. they actually do carry scarves and clothing that are worn by many of the younger muslim women! so why not represent your demographic of customers? and if acompany reschedules to accomidate their employees why are you so het up bout it? if you want this changed tell companies to stop takeing easter and christmas and the 4ht of july and other holidays off!! if you dont want other religions to equal time then dont take any holidays off no matter what they are for! and if you gonna jump on the 4th of july thing remembe rthat our gov was working that day back when the declaration of independence was signed and yet they take it off to celebrate these days! i dont think our forfathers meant independence for all except non white non christian people!! what about the constitution? it gives us the right to freedom of expression and religion and yet you want to say its only ok for christians to have those freedoms? yes i noticed you didnt name christians in your rant which shows your bias!

  18. helema,

    i don’t mean to be rude but what in the world are you talking about. “didnt name christians in your rant”, i think you need to reread my rant, and google blue laws. “i dont think our forfathers meant independence for all except non white non christian people!!”, really! i didn’t notice washington or jefferson freeing any of their slaves. i’m pretty sure they meant white men, not sure about the religious part but i don’t think you know your history too well. (i guess people will now call my a raging racist for being honest about the founding fathers’ racism) let me make this clear. i’m not saying that is the way it should be, but if you think jefferson thought that blacks were equal to whites your crazy. hell he wrote a book on it. lincoln also thought blacks inferior and wanted to ship them all back to africa. you ever heard of liberia? as for national holidays (easter is not one) that only means that federal employees are entitled to the day off. true most state and local gov and large corporations adhere to the same set of holidays (except columbus day and often mlk day). we just had columbas day. you didn’t notice most the country working? oh yeah banks take all the federal holidays. many christians work on christmas, especially in the hospitality industry. as for a&f’s scarf sales, i know nothing about they product line or their targeted demographics. i did google them and they first model that popped up was a guy without a shirt on. no clothes in several of the pics despite being they sell clothes. but it looks like they did 92 million in profit for Q4 2010. so they must be doing something right. as for disneys diversity policies, i do know they give health insurance to gay partners of employees, but i also know they are very strict in their dress code and like a&f guard their “image”. my point i guess very poorly made is that buisness should have a right to demand a certain dress code from their employees. if your religion dictates that you not cut your hair and an employer wants to present a clean cut look, i don’t think it’s equal rights to have the government force the employer to accomidate the employee. “if acompany reschedules to accomidate their employees why are you so het up bout it?” if the company does that willingly good for them. i’m heated up about the lawsuits that bring government power to bear to intimidate companies. i’m heated up about the precident being set. so if a santaria priest sues for an alter to sacrifice chickens on to be built in airports because he feels safer getting on a plane after making a sacrifice to st christoper, you would support him?

    “what about the constitution? it gives us the right to freedom of expression and religion” true but just because i have a freedom of expression it doesn’t mean someone has to provide me a platform, a radio, or tv show. you can practice any religion you want (to a degree, no human sacrifice) but that doesn’t mean an employer has to accomadate your religious obligation. the constitution simply forbids the government from establishing a state religion and from the government outlawing religions. no where does it say that all private and public entities have to accomidate any or all religious rituals.

    btw the 4th of july should really be on the 2nd, “John Adams, in his writings, even noted that July 2 would be remembered in the annals of American history and would be marked with fireworks and celebrations.”

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