The U.S. District judge for the District of Kansas ruled this week that thousands of meatpacking workers may move forward against Tyson Foods, Inc. as a class action suit. The workers allege that they were denied overtime and other forms of compensation by the company. The ruling was a positive development for the workers, comprised mainly of Latin American immigrants who couldn’t afford to proceed individually.
Hourly wage workers from Tyson’s slaughterhouses in Holcomb and Emporia, Kansas, originally filed the case in May 1006. Together, the Kansas operations employ some 3,300 hourly workers. The workers allege that Tyson owes them millions of dollars in back pay for all the time they spend on the job.
The key issue in the case is whether Tyson should have to compensate workers for all of the time they spend putting on and removing protective gear, cleaning equipment, waiting for production lines to start, walking to and from work, break, and changing quarters, and working on unpaid meal breaks.
Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the workers are seeking compensation for overtime. They are also seeking compensation for unpaid “straight time” at work under the Kansas Wage Payment Act.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that under the Fair Labor Standards Act, production workers must be compensated for doing anything that is “integral and indispensable” to the “principal activity” of the job they perform.
The ruling influenced Lungstrom’s decision last year to reject a motion by Tyson for summary judgment. In doing so, Lungstrum “ruled that whether standard protective clothing was ‘integral and indispensable’ to Tyson employees’ work was a factual question for a jury to decide,” according to a report in the Kansas City Star.