Court to hear labor dispute

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Feb 28, 2005
by WLJ
— Pay for getting dressed requested.
The U.S. Supreme Court last week said it will hear arguments on whether meat-processing plants must pay workers for the time to change into protective clothing and to walk to their work stations.
The nine justices will review two opposite lower court rulings examining workers' rights under federal labor law. One ordered IBP Inc.—prior to its purchase by Tyson Fresh Meats Inc.—to pay $3.1 million to 815 workers in Pasco, WA, for the time to put on and remove protective clothing. A separate federal court ruling said 44 Barber Foods employees in Portland, ME, were not entitled to compensation.
The Supreme Court’s ruling could have ramifications for a wide swath of occupations from nuclear plants to law enforcement whose employees might spend extra time to perform duties related to their principal line of work.
At the IBP plant, workers were required to gather protective gear, put it on in the plant's locker room, and then prepare work-related tools before entering the slaughter floor. The gear typically consists of a sanitary outer garment, boots, a hard hat, goggles, and gloves. However, under company policy, workers were not considered “on the job” until they showed up, fully equipped. They also were not paid for the time spent changing out of the heavy gear for a 30-minute lunch break or at the end of the shift.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers aren't required to pay workers for time spent changing clothes.
However, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco rule that donning protective gear in a hazardous profession is different from changing clothes because the protection is “integral and indispensable” to the job.
In ruling against the Barber Foods employees, 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that time spent changing gear and walking to work stations shouldn't be compensated, in part because donning the equipment only takes a few minutes. — WLJ