Amazon security workers allege retaliation after prayer space request

Essag Hassan, center, says his former employer, Security Industry Specialists, made work difficult and then fired him after he requested space to pray. (Photo by John Stang.)

Ismahan Ismael says her Amazon supervisor hassled her about daily Muslim prayers to where work became too stressful for her to endure.

Meanwhile, Essag Hassan says a similar problem led to his being fired recently from an Amazon security contractor.

The pair was the focus of a multi-faith rally and prayer session early Friday afternoon outside Amazon’s Building A on Terry Street in downtown Seattle.

The two workers say that Security Industry Specialists — the contractor that handles Amazon’s security — has treated its Muslim workers unfairly after they requested a space to perform daily prayers. In contrast, tech workers directly employed by Amazon have access to prayer rooms, according to an employee.

About 125 people — including a huge group from an earlier federal courthouse rally in support of Daniel Ramirez Medina, an immigrant who was arrested despite being covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program  —  listened to Ismael’s and Hassan’s stories before hearing prayers from the Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian faiths.

“Are we going to stand for religious discrimination in 2017,” asked one of the rally’s leaders, Asha Mohammed.

“No,” the crowd roared back.

Amazon took an official stance against President Donald Trump’s executive orders that banned travel from nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries. But rally organizers said Amazon needs to respect the diversity of the people who are currently working at the company and its contractors.

“We’re grateful for Amazon taking a stance against President Trump’s executive orders. But we want them to take a stance with their employees and with their contractors,” said Elise DeGooyer, another rally organizer. Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant also spoke at the event.

Message left with Amazon’s press office and with Security Industry Specialists were not returned Friday.

Ismahan Ismael said she felt hassled by a supervisor at Security Industry Specialists, a contractor that provides security for Amazon, after she asked for space to pray. (Photo by John Stang)

Ismael, 28, joined the security firm in 2012 and was assigned to Amazon that next year as a security risk analyst.

“I loved what Amazon is about,” she said.

A devout Muslim, she prays five times a day, including during work hours. At Amazon, she would normally use an empty room, such as an unused conference room to pray. But a new supervisor questioned her about her praying.

She said he kept asking her about her prayers, and discussed them frequently, including asking about rescheduling her prayers.

The constant discussions about her prayers creating an overwhelming feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression Ismael to the point that she took medical leave in 2015.

Technically, she still works for Security Industry Specialists, but she is still on medical leave and is unsure if she wants to return.

Hassan, 30, is a former Massachusetts State Police officer who moved to Seattle 2-1/2 years ago and joined Security Industry Specialists as a security guard. Hassan also used unused rooms to pray.

But his posts shifted among several Amazon buildings. Eventually, he was told to use a warehouse — complete with trucks coming and going and which was 15 minutes away from his post.

He says his efforts to obtain a better prayer situation irritated his superiors and led to his being fired in December 2016.

“They felt I was harassing them,” Hassan said. Losing his job stressed his newly pregnant wife, causing her to miscarry, he said.

He said other Muslim security guards now are afraid of complain about the prayer situation.

At Friday’s rally, Amazon employee Usama Baiomuy, a Muslim, worked his way to the main microphone to defend his employer.

“We have prayer rooms everywhere. … We need to set the record straight,” he said.

Hassan and Ismael said they were not made aware of available prayer rooms.

Baiomuy and Hassan talked to each other at the side of the rally. Baiomuy told Hassan he will fight to make sure that security workers are given access to prayer rooms.

Then Baiomuy and Hassan knelt on prayer rugs about 10 feet apart as Imam Abdirahman Hassan led about 30 Muslims in prayer.

Amazon employee Usama Baiomuy (front) defended his company, saying all employees who work directly for the tech giant, including himself and other Muslims, have access to prayer rooms. He pledged to help the security workers get access to the rooms. (Photo by John Stang.)
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