By Laura Myers
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Hertz rental car company, which was met with protests for suspending 34 Muslim shuttle drivers in Seattle in a dispute over prayer breaks, said it would reinstate the workers if they agreed to clock in and out.
Hertz said the Somali Muslim employees at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport were suspended not for praying but for failing to clock in and out for 10-minute breaks as required under a collective bargaining agreement.
Washington state law allows employees two 10-minute breaks during an eight-hour shift.
"This issue arose when breaks for prayers were extended for unacceptably long periods beyond 10 minutes for nonreligious activities, Hertz spokesman Richard Broome said in a written statement issued on Friday night.
"Individual warnings were communicated as well as a written warning, both prior to the implementation of disciplinary action," he said.
Workers protested the Seattle airport Hertz location on Wednesday following the suspensions, which Teamsters Local 117, the union representing the Muslim workers, has called discrimination based on religious beliefs.
The union said in a statement released earlier this week that Muslim employees had complained of a hostile work environment toward them and said that, in one instance, a Hertz manager tried to block a group of seven Somali women from accessing a designated prayer room.
"This is an outrageous assault on the rights of these workers and appears to be discriminatory based on their religious beliefs," Tracey Thompson, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 117, said in a written release.
But Broome, in his statement, said Hertz had accommodated the Muslim workers' prayer schedule for 15 years at the Seattle airport location, creating a space for them to pray.
He said Muslim workers at the airport facility had not suspended, Broome said.
"Several of our Muslim employees at the Seattle airport are complying and are not affected by the disciplinary action, which undercuts the false contention that this issue is related to prayer or religion," Broome said. (Editing by Dan Whitcomb)