The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a decision yesterday that Tyson pork processing workers must be paid for the time they spend putting on their protective material and cleaning their equipment.
The dispute the Court looked at in the case, Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, concerned what constitutes a "representative sampling" of workers in a class-action lawsuit.
Tyson argued that a 2011 sexual discrimination case, Wal-Mart vs. Dukes, in which all of Wal-Mart’s female workers were named as a class, set a precedent to overturn the Tyson class-action case.
But the Court thought differently, ruling 6-2 that the precedent did not apply here because the class was not as broad.
Three thousand workers who slaughtered hogs and processed pork meat at Tyson's facility in Storm Lake, Iowa, were part of the class action.
Tyson must pay the $5.8 million judgment in favor of the workers. The workers sued for payment of time in excess of eight minutes each day they spent putting on and taking off protective gear before slaughtering and processing animals.
The plaintiffs in the case produced a study by a industrial relations expert concluding that, based on 744 observations of workers at the plant, trimming workers took 18 minutes on average to get in and out of their protective gear, and hog-killing workers took 21.25 minutes. Tyson paid its workers for eight minutes of prep time total per shift.
Some employees were much faster than others. According to court documents, Tyson employees individually took anywhere from half a minute to 10 minutes to put on protective gear before a shift. “That’s a pretty wide range,” said Patrick Bannon, an attorney in the Labor and Employment Division at Seyfarth Shaw in Boston, representing employers. “If you have a workplace where the [length of] pre-shift preparations are all over the map, it’s not going to be easy to measure how long it takes.”
Some companies may need to more closely monitor or regulate employees to better approximate average prep time, Bannon said.