Tyson Food earlier this week agreed to settle a Fair Labor Standards lawsuit initiated by the United Food and Commercial Workers over Tyson’s practice of not paying workers for the time they spend at work putting on and taking off protective gear they wear to keep the food they process safe and for their own protection.
“Every American deserves to get paid for the work they do,” said Joe Hansen, UFCW International President. “We’re changing the way meatpackers do business and making them pay thousands of workers correctly.” And in fact, the current industry-wide standard now is to pay workers for this activity, but not 12 years ago when the union brought suit against the company.
Tyson agreed to pay $32 million to settle the suit that will affect 17,000 Tyson workers and former workers in 41 plants and 12 states mainly in the South. Each worker will receive about $1,000 as a result of the settlement. Many if not most Tyson workers are immigrants from Latin America.
The suit charged that Tyson did not pay its workers for the time it took them to put on and take off their protective gear that included such items as special shirts and pants, safety jump suits, safety boots, hair nets, face nets, hard hats, aprons, belts with holsters and knives, and hand and arm protection and for not paying workers for walking to their work stations after donning the gear and walking from their work stations to take off their gear.
Back in 2002, a few years after the suit was filed, Perdue Foods, one of Tyson’s competitors, decided that it would pay workers for donning and doffing safety equipment and for walking to and from their work area. Other companies followed suit, but Tyson gambled that a court would uphold its practice.
But in 2005, Tyson’s position became shaky after the US Supreme Court ruled that employers can’t deny workers pay by making them work off the clock. But it took another six years for Tyson to finally come to terms with the fact that its position was indefensible.
“We’ve already made a change in the way meatpackers pay their workers,” said Hansen. “While this settlement is long overdue, our efforts have ensured that thousands of workers have been paid correctly for years now.”
Workers and former workers at Tyson plants in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri,
North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas receive compensation for the work that they were denied pay.
In a statement released after the settlement, UFCW said that “This lawsuit and the new pay practices in the meatpacking
industry are just one way union workers raise standards for every worker in their industry, regardless of their union status.”