Workers sue Tyson Foods over pay

By DAN MARGOLIES

Posted on Wed, May. 17, 2006

Workers at Tyson Foods Inc.'s giant meat-processing plant in Holcomb, Kan., sued the company Tuesday, alleging they were denied pay for time they spent donning and doffing protective gear.

The suit, filed in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., by 252 former and current employees, comes six months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that IBP Inc. had to pay workers at a meat plant in Washington for the time they spent putting on and removing protective clothing and walking to and from their work stations.

The Holcomb plant employs 2,500 hourly workers, many of them immigrants from Latin America. Tyson acquired the plant from IBP several years ago.

"The allegation is that the workers are not paid fully for time they spend putting on protective gear and clothing, which is required," said George Hanson of Kansas City, one of several lawyers representing the plaintiffs. "As you can imagine, the conditions they work under are very dangerous. You have a lot of moving machinery, lots of sharp edges, and lots of saws and things which are used to render a live animal into hamburger."

The suit also seeks compensation for the time the workers needed to walk to and from their changing, work and break areas.

Hanson estimated that the time for which the workers were allegedly denied pay amounted to at least 30 minutes per day per worker. Because the workers make between $10 and $12 an hour and the suit seeks overtime pay, damages could add up to millions.

Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson Foods, said that the company had not reviewed the lawsuit. But in an e-mail message, he said that Tyson thinks it takes "all necessary steps to pay our team members for all the time they work."

"We can also tell you that we have already been paying for an additional four minutes of pre- and post-activity at the Holcomb, Kansas, plant since the late 1990s, when we resolved a wage and hour matter with the U.S. Department of Labor," Mickelson said.

The Supreme Court decision in the IBP case followed a seven-year legal battle in which workers at a beef processing plant in Pasco, Wash., alleged that IBP refused to pay them for the time they spent putting on goggles, frocks, chain-linked metal aprons, leggings and arm guards.

A federal court ruled in favor of the workers, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision. IBP appealed to the Supreme Court, which affirmed the 9th Circuit in November.

IBP has since settled the case for $8.4 million. About 800 workers at the plant began receiving checks last month. About half will receive more than $10,000 each.

First glance

  • A lawyer for the Holcomb, Kan., Tyson Foods workers estimated that the time for which the workers were allegedly denied pay amounted to at least 30 minutes per day per worker.

 

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