Jury Awards $2 Million Verdict to Meat Processing Facility Employees

     Yesterday (9/26/2011), a jury awarded workers from multiple Tyson Foods, Inc. (“Tyson”) meat processing facilities a $2,892,378.70 verdict for uncompensated work performed before and after their shifts.  The Plaintiffs consisted of production and support employees from the Denison, IA and Storm Lake, IA facilities.  The trial took place in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa.

     Plaintiffs claimed that the donning and doffing of hard hats, work boots, hair nets, frocks, aprons, gloves, whites, and ear plugs before or after work constituted compensable “work” as defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  Tyson argued that these were merely “preliminary” and “postliminary” activities, for which it did not have to compensate employees. 

     The jury agreed with the Plaintiffs, and found that the preliminary and postliminary activities were compensable work under the FLSA, and, therefore, Tyson had failed to properly compensate these employees for that work.

Nebraska Meat Processing Plant Employees Receive Settlement from Meat Company

On July 19th, a settlement between Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. and a number of employees from its Schuyler, Neb., beef processing plant was approved by Judge Richard G. Kopf of the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska.  The plant employees claimed in their complaint that Cargill had violated overtime and minimum wage requirements set by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), the Nebraska Wage and Hour Act (“NWHA”), and the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act (“NWPCA”).  Specifically, the employees claimed that they were not paid for required activities performed before shifts, after shifts, and during meal breaks, such as: obtaining tools, equipment and supplies necessary for the performance of their jobs; donning, doffing, and sanitizing various equipment and protective gear; sharpening knives or using “steels” or “mousetraps;” sanitizing knives; and walking between work sites before the first work activity and after the last work activity of the day.  The performance of these activities led to the plant employees working substantial amounts of time “off-the-clock” and without pay.  According to the settlement agreement, the plant employees required to wear the most amount of protective equipment will receive $6.00 per week for a specific period of time already worked, while other employees will receive $4.00 per week. The approved settlement will help to compensate these employees for their previously uncompensated work time.

Tyson Foods Workers Awarded Jury Verdict in FLSA Lawsuit

 

           A jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas awarded over $500,000 to a class of meatpacking plant employees on Thursday (3/17/11). The collective action lawsuit sought to recover earned wages and overtime pay for workers at a Tyson Foods, Inc. meat processing facility located in Finney County, Kansas. The workers alleged that they performed several duties throughout their shifts for which they were not paid, such as changing into the required protective work uniforms and safety equipment (work pants and shirts, hard hats, safety boots, hair nets, etc.), and substantial walks to and from the changing area, work areas, and break areas. In awarding a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, the jury found that Tyson Foods, Inc. violated both the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Kansas Wage Payment Act (“KWPA) by failing to compensate their Finney County employees for all hours worked.

            Owners of these types of facilities have historically been the subjects of litigation under the FLSA and state wage acts when they engage in miserly pay practices, such as trying to save money by not compensating employees for time spent donning and doffing protective gear and the subsequent walks to their workstations. Generally, if an employee performs a task that is primarily for the benefit of the employer, then the employee must be compensated for that time. Also, under the “continuous workday rule”, once an employee has engaged in such a principal activity, the employee’s workday has begun. Therefore, if the donning and doffing of protective gear is substantial enough and considered a principal activity primarily for the benefit of the employer, the workday has begun and the employee’s subsequent walk to their workstation should be considered compensable work time.

Sam Kane Meat Processing Workers Seek Wages

Judge Hayden Head of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas granted class status to a group of current and former employees of Sam Kane Beef Processors Inc. Judge Head ordered that notice should be sent to all hourly wage earners involved in production, processing, packing and cleaning activities during the three years prior to August 10, 2007. The workers who filed the lawsuit claim that they spend up to 2 hours a day engaging in unpaid work activities, including dressing and undressing, waiting in security lines and sanitizing equipment. Sam Kane Beef Processors argues that all of its employees were already paid for the disputed time.

The Supreme Court, in IBP v Alvarez, determined that meat processing workers must be paid for time spent donning and doffing protective or safety gear and equipment. In Alvarez, the Supreme Court also decided that under the continuous workday rule employees must be paid for all walking and waiting time occurring after donning but before doffing the required gear and equipment. 

Workers in meat processing and poultry plants have sued employers throughout the country. Tyson Foods in particular has faced many lawsuits regarding its alleged illegal pay practices. In 2007 the Third Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Tyson must pay its poultry workers for donning and doffing their safety gear. Pay practices at Tyson’s Goodlettsville, TN meat processing facility have been challenged in a lawsuit joined by over 600 workers. That case is scheduled for trial in August 2008.

18 Tyson Overtime Lawsuit Consolidated

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered that pre-trial proceedings in 18 wage and hour lawsuits against Tyson Foods Inc. be consolidated. Tyson workers in Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas filed lawsuits for unpaid overtime wages. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Tyson-owned IBP, Inc. violated the FLSA by failing to pay workers in South Dakota for the time they spent donning and doffing required sanitary and protective gear and equipment, as well as associated waiting and walking time. 

In September 2007, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals determined that donning and doffing required gear and equipment by Tyson workers constituted work as a matter of law. Still, Tyson chooses to not pay many workers for time spent changing into or out of protective clothing, waiting in lines to retrieve the clothing or perform production work, or walking from the locker rooms to their work stations.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that: “Robert Camp of The Cochran Firm in Birmingham, Ala., who represents more than 1,000 clients in a suit against Tyson, said it could work to the plaintiffs' advantage also to all be heard in one court.”

Tyson Poultry Workers Win Appeal

On September 6, 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that workers at Tyson Foods, Inc.’s poultry processing plant in New Holland, Pennsylvania engaged in work under the FLSA by donning and doffing required sanitary and safety gear.  In the case, De Asencio v. Tyson Foods, Inc. the Third Circuit court relied upon a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision, IBP v. Alvarez, which held that the FLSA required Tyson to pay its meat processing workers for similar donning and doffing work and all related waiting and walking time. 

Yesterday’s ruling by the Third Circuit is an important victory for meat and poultry processing workers. The court held that the worker’s donning and doffing activities constitute work as a matter of law. Tyson and other employers in the meat and poultry processing industry choose not to pay workers for time spent putting on, taking off, and collecting required safety gear and equipment. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Alvarez it is clear that workers must be paid for this kind of donning and doffing. Hopefully, this latest courtroom defeat will finally end Tyson’s steadfast refusal to pay its workers for all hours worked. 

The U.S. Department of Labor should be commended for its work on behalf of the unpaid workers. DOL lawyers involved in the appeal include: Howard M. Radzely, Solicitor of Labor; Steven J. Mandel, Associate Solicitor of Labor; Paul L. Frieden, Counsel for Appellate Litigation. Joanna Hull argued on behalf of the DOL.

Arkansas Workers Sue Tyson for Overtime Violations

Employees from Tyson Foods, Inc. poultry processing plants in Arkansas filed a lawsuit against Tyson for overtime pay violations (Adams, et al. v. Tyson Foods, Inc., U.S. District Court, Western District of Arkansas). The lawsuit claims that Tyson violated the FLSA by failing to pay its employees for the time spent donning and doffing required gear and equipment, as well as time spent walking, waiting, and performing other job duties “off the clock.” Tyson is facing lawsuits throughout the U.S. for alleged FLSA overtime pay violations at its chicken processing and meat processing facilities

Tyson and others in the poultry and meat processing industries have longstanding differences with workers and the U.S. Department of Labor over industry pay practices.  These differences appeared to be finally resolved when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of workers in Alvarez v. IBP.  Still IBP (now Tyson) and other employers refuse to pay workers for time spent donning and doffing required gear and equipment.  According to the Department of Labor workers should be paid for this time. 

Meat Processing Facilities

Meat processing facilities frequently fail to comply with the FLSA.  Typically, employers fail to pay employees for the time spent donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off) required sanitation gear and personal protective equipment. 

Employers in the meat processing industry must capture and pay employees for all time spent donning and doffing required sanitary/safety gear and equipment.  These employers must also pay for all the related walking and waiting time as well as other related duties (such as sharpening knives or sanitizing equipment). 

Employers in this industry also frequently fail to pay their employees for production work, and donning and doffing, performed during their meal periods.