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.

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.