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Judge says Lawsuit on Paying Workers for Time Spent Putting on Gear can go Forward

THE KANSAS CITY STAR - Dan Margolies

A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit by hundreds of meatpacking workers seeking compensation for the time they spend donning and doffing protective clothing.

The decision last week by U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum in Kansas City, Kan., is significant because it reinterprets earlier 10th Circuit law in light of a recent landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1994, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose rulings are law in Kansas and five other states, held that donning and doffing of standard protective gear was not “work” within the meaning of the federal wage and hour laws and therefore wasn’t compensable.

But in 2005, the Supreme Court 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, Kan. The number of plaintiffs has since burgeoned to 823.

The workers, most of whom are Latino immigrants, charged that they did not receive wages and overtime pay for the time they spent putting on and removing protective clothing and walking to and from their 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.

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