Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Follow up: Federal District Court in Kansas allows class action suit to proceed against Tyson despite earlier 1994 settlement to the contrary. Last week the US District Court for Kansas denied summary judgment to Tyson Foods in its Holcomb Kansas workers' class action suit that seeks millions of dollars in back pay for overtime to put on special protective gear in the plant. Tyson alleged the 10th Circuit decision in 1994 settled the matter and even though the US Supreme Court reversed the law on that case it was still final. See Reich v. IBP, Inc., 38 F.3d 1123 (10th Cir. 1994). The recent case is Garcia et al v. Tyson Foods. USDC KS 06-2198-JWL In 1994, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that donning and doffing of standard protective gear was not “work” within the meaning of the federal wage and hour laws and therefore was not compensable. But in 2005, the Supreme Court in IBP, INC. V. ALVAREZ (03-1238) held that any activity that is “integral and indispensable” to a “principal activity” performed by production workers is compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act.The case before Lungstrum was filed last May by 262 current and former workers at the Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. plant in Holcomb. The number of plaintiffs has since grown to 823. The workers claimed they did not receive wages and overtime pay for the time spent putting on and removing protective clothing and walking to and from work stations. The suit seeks certification as a class action on behalf of all overtime-eligible Tyson employees who have worked at the 2,500-employee plant in the past five years. Lungstrum’s ruling came after Tyson sought summary judgment in the case. The company argued that the 10th Circuit’s 1994 decision was still applicable law in Kansas. In denying Tyson’s motion, Lungstrum found that whether standard protective clothing is “integral and indispensable” to the Tyson employees’ work is a factual question for a jury to decide. Tyson also argued that a settlement of the 1994 case, which was brought against meatpacker IBP by the Department of Labor, barred the workers’ additional request for compensation for time in excess of four minutes spent by employees donning and doffing specialized — as opposed to standard — protective clothing. The settlement required IBP, which was later acquired by Tyson, to compensate those employees an additional four minutes per shift for the time they spent putting on and removing specialized protective gear such as Kevlar gloves and sleeves, rubber gloves, plastic arm guards and mesh aprons. Lungstrum found that although the settlement used a “reasonable time” method to arrive at the back pay awarded to the workers, “it did not absolve defendants, on a prospective basis, from recording and compensating employees for actual time spent donning and doffing specialized clothing and gear.” Kansas City lawyer George Hanson, who represents the Tyson workers, said he was pleased with the decision and hoped that Tyson “will finally realize it is obligated to reform its compensation policies in order to comply with the law

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