Tough times for Muslim security offices in Seattle—one man’s story on fighting prejudice

 

Quick Read:

Essag Hassan has been a security officer in the Seattle area for more than seven years. He works for the company Security Industry Specialists (SIS), guarding one of the most profitable and recognizable retailers in the world—AMAZON.

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As a Muslim, Essag was happy to hear that his company had religious accommodations—as required by law (Title VII). However, he found some management to be uncooperative. “They kept switching which rooms I could use to pray in during my break. And one supervisor told me to just do it in my car,” he said.  At one point, he was asked to use a building a 10-minute walk from his post, even though he only had a 10-minute break, making that impossible.

He felt they had a negative attitude around his prayer request and were making things unnecessarily hard. “In the staff room, during briefings, management would make comments about Muslims in front of the room,” Essag says. “I finally got a lawyer. It was that bad trying to work this out with them. I just wanted to pray on my break. That’s all,” he said.

Despite a spotless work record—no disciplines or write-ups of any kind—Essag was removed from the work schedule several weeks later for accidently not clocking in at work. He and witnesses provided statements explaining that on that specific day Essag was asked to assist an officer in another building immediately upon arriving to work–and in the rush to get to that location, he forgot to clock in.

It’s been more than two weeks that he’s gone without work. And management is asking him to provide yet another written statement. He was told he would have to wait and see if he still had a job as an officer protecting AMAZON. Essag doesn’t know long he can last.

“I feel singled out,” he said. “Thank god I saved up money. I’m expecting a baby and with rent and bills, it’s going to be tough now,” he said. “Honestly, I’m worried about paying the electricity for the next few months. And covering our car insurance.”

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Raised in Seattle as a child, Essag Hassan ended up moving across the country to live with his father in Boston, Massachusetts.  A strict disciplinarian, Essag credits his dad with setting him on the right path and helping him put his priorities in order. “My father did things right. And he expected the same of his kids—get your work done, get places early, and take care of your responsibilities.  He spent time building a connection and teaching us these things,” he said.

It was in Boston that Essag planned his future with a career in medicine. And his studies for medical school began. But all of that changed one night when his cousin was returning home and was shot on the family door step–a case of mistaken identity by neighborhood kids. “Abdul was my best friend. We were together all the time and were both going to be doctors someday,” Essag said. Abdul had received a full scholarship to medical school before his fatality.

Losing his cousin deeply affected Essag and he wanted to do something about it. He told his Aunt he was switching from medicine to a career in forensics. And that’s what he did. Essag enrolled and attended Boston College–and several years later graduated with a degree in criminal justice.

After college, Essag’s mother suffered setbacks with her diabetes and he moved back to his home-town of Seattle. “I’m one of six children on my mom’s side, and I just felt it was right for me to come back and help her care for the family,” he said.

While helping his mother, Essag entered the security industry. And for the last seven years he’s been hard at work as an officer protecting people and property throughout the Seattle-area. Today he works for the company Security Industry Specialists (SIS), guarding one of the most profitable and recognizable retailers in the world—AMAZON. His job is to watch over high-priority buildings, escort vendors where they need to be and to make sure everything is running smoothly on the loading docks.

“I really enjoy my co-workers and keeping folks safe. I’m on time every day and I never miss a day of work,” he says. “

But Essag doesn’t feel his security company–SIS–takes the same approach.  After two years with them he says the rules keep changing, making it hard for officers to do their jobs correctly and efficiently. Then there are the issues with pay, with officers’ checks not accurately reflecting the hours they worked. And some are not receiving their hard-earned over-time. “When we try to bring up the issues with our paychecks, to get them corrected, some of us get the run around from SIS. It gets tiring,” he said.

With all of that, it’s the lack of respect and fairness in the workplace that is hardest for Essag. “In the staff room, during briefings, management would make comments about Muslims in front of the room,” Essag says. A good percentage of the security officers at Amazon are Muslim. And the comments did not sit well with many employees.

As a Muslim, Essag was happy to hear that SIS had religious accommodations—as required by law (Title VII).  However, he found some management to be uncooperative. “They kept switching which rooms I could use to pray in during my break. And one supervisor told me to just do it in my car,” he said.  At one point, he was asked to use a building a 10-minute walk from his post, even though he only had a 10-minute break, making that impossible.

He felt they had a negative attitude around his prayer request and were making things unnecessarily hard. “I finally got a lawyer. It was that bad trying to work this out with them. I just wanted to pray on my break. That’s all,” he said. Only when management found out about the legal help was Essag given a close and reasonable location to pray during breaks.

He thought the mattered was settled, but within a few weeks, things got much worse. One morning Essag reported to work and was immediately called to help an officer at another building. In the rush to help with that coverage, he forgot to clock in. According to policy, if an officer misses a clock in, SIS will place a phone call to see what the issue is. He never got that call.

Instead, Essag was pulled in to a room by a supervisor who said, “I know you are lying to me. Now I want a statement from you about not clocking in.”

Essag was taken aback. In his two years with SIS he had never had a write-up, a warning or a discipline of any kind. His record was spotless. Essag agreed to give a statement and had witnesses submit them as well. He finished out the work week. When Monday came, however, Essag was ‘off’ the schedule—he wasn’t in the system to work any upcoming shifts.

For two years he had been a full-time officer. And now—nothing.

Essag called the scheduler, but they didn’t what was going on.  He called his supervisor, same response. He reached out to upper management, Human Resources, everyone. No one was providing an explanation or an answer.

It’s been more than two weeks that he’s gone without work and Essag and his wife are expecting their first child soon. “I feel singled out,” he said. “Thank god I saved up money. I’m expecting a baby and with rent and bills, it’s going to be tough now,” he said. “Honestly, I’m worried about paying the electricity for the next few months. And covering our car insurance.”

As of this writing, Essag was called in by management and asked to provide a second statement on the incident. He was told he would have to wait and see if he still had a job as an officer protecting AMAZON.

“I’m a hard worker. I’ve never had a write-up or bad review. I just want them to treat me like a human being and tell me what is going on,” he said. “I hope AMAZON and these big employers contract with more professional security companies in the future. It goes a long way,” he said.

 

 

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