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Tyson Foods Off-the-Clock Work Settlement Is Approved at Nearly $19 Million

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Lexington, NEBarring an appeal, it appears as though an Unpaid Wages lawsuit brought against Tyson Foods Inc. (Tyson) in 2008 is in its final days, following approval by a federal judge in late January of terms relating to a settlement that will bring the six-year-old lawsuit to a close.

However, the Tyson donning and doffing lawsuit, alleging off-the-clock work at the Tyson processing plant in Nebraska, is only one egress regress lawsuit. There are many, many more. What’s more, the US Supreme Court recently released an opinion on the definition of “clothes” that is expected to have an impact on future egress regress litigation.

An unpaid wages lawsuit is nothing new, as various employees over the years have alleged the nonpayment of wages for working overtime, or toiling through meal breaks and rest periods. However, off-the-clock work lawsuits allege that employees should be paid for time spent donning and then doffing protective gear or other clothing. If it’s at the behest of the employer, then it should be considered work time and compensated as such.

To that end, industry watchers have had their eye on the Tyson case since it was first brought six years ago. Plaintiffs in the Tyson unpaid wages claim alleged that Tyson paid only for time employees actually spent on the assembly line floor, but not for time spent undertaking required preproduction and post-production line activities - including the donning and doffing of protective gear.

The class was certified in March 2011, tried in January 2013, and this past May, plaintiffs were awarded $5.7 million in back pay, together with liquidated damages amounting to about twice that. On January 30, US District Court Judge Joseph F. Bataillon adjusted the back-pay award upward to $6.3 million in order to account for opt-outs and temporary workers, according to court records.

While rejecting the plaintiff’s bid for additional damages in the sum of $1.5 million, Judge Bataillon nonetheless increased the back wages in favor of the plaintiff class, and held the $12.5 million in liquidated damages originally awarded in May of last year.

Total take is almost $19 million

Combined, the unpaid wages claim compensation package is worth $18.8 million and will stand, subject to appeal. Judge Bataillon entered the judgment on January 30. He entered final judgment in favor of the plaintiffs in January 2013 following the bench trial. Judge Bataillon also found that plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys’ fees and costs, although an amount has yet to be determined.

The Tyson lawsuit is Manuel Acosta v. Tyson Foods Inc., Case No. 8:08-cv-00086, in the US District Court for the District of Nebraska.

Various off-the-clock work litigation continues to reverberate across the nation, targeting defendants as well-known and well-heeled as Amazon. Plaintiffs claim that Amazon workers should be paid for time spent waiting in lines for company-mandated screening, which occurs on a regular basis at Amazon’s sprawling processing facilities.

Plaintiffs in other lawsuits hold similar allegations that should an employer require an employee to wear company-mandated clothing and/or protective gear - or are mandated to participate in meetings prior to commencing a shift and post-shift - then such hours should be considered work time and compensated accordingly.

US Supreme Court weighs in on definition of clothes

Further legitimizing the genre of lawsuits that cover egress and regress issues is the recent decision by the US Supreme Court that defines the term “changing clothes” in relation to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

To that end, FLSA holds that in most cases time spent changing into and then out of protective clothing and safety gear while at the worksite should be considered work time and should be properly compensated as such. However, there is a loophole as it pertains to collective bargaining agreements (CBA). Under Section 203(o), time spent donning and doffing work clothes, or washing prior to or following active work is not considered compensable time if the activity is treated as non-work time within the language of a certified CBA in a unionized environment.

The US Supreme Court’s opinion on the definition of “clothing” was in relation to an off-the-clock work lawsuit brought against US Steel by a class of some 800 workers at the US Steel plant in Gary, Indiana (Sandifer et al. v. US Steel Corp., Case No. 12-417, in the US Supreme Court). While the opinion is confined to unionized workplaces with a CBA in place, the ruling nonetheless is expected to have a widespread impact on other industries that encompass meat packing and poultry processing, among others.

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READER COMMENTS

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I worked in Maint. for Tyson. I was part of this lawsuit or one like it. We were forced to skip breaks and lunch due to production needs and never compensated...... I never recieved a compensation check from them...... Who do I have to contact to get that?

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