Big business is running up huge profits. Wages are low and the economy is doing better. But many companies are still nickel-and-diming workers of their fair share even as they scrape along to earn a living.
The latest example is in Wisconsin, where Hormel Foods wouldn’t pay its employees for the roughly six minutes a day they spent putting on protective clothing to get to work and taking it off when they’re finished. Somehow, those at the canning plant felt this is something its workers did for fun.
Thankfully, the Wisconsin Supreme Court didn’t agree, siding with the workers that they should be paid for their time. As Gawker reported, the workers’ membership in the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) was a real asset:
“The most notable thing about this case is that it took a team of attorneys from the UFCW union in order to get these more than 300 workers the proper compensation that they were due. Had they not had a team of union attorneys working on their behalf, they would have gotten nothing, for the simple reason that the company just felt that it didn’t have to pay them for all their time. Knowing that only a small fraction of American workers are unionized, it is easy to imagine how many thousands and thousands of workers in other workplaces are getting screwed out of their proper compensation because their employer arbitrarily categorizes some portion of their time spent at work as not being work.”
But there are still other battles raging on in this issue. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court is still weighing Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, which it heard last December. In that case, the meat processing giant is asking the high court not only to throw out a $6 million verdict issued against it, but to stop others from filing similar lawsuits against it going forward.
The company originally refused to allow its workers to punch a time clock until after they donned the gear they need for work. After several judgments against it, Tyson allotted four minutes a shift and applied it to workers. Workers in an Iowa plant, however, said that didn’t even come close. And review of video of workers coming and leaving the plant proved it, as Mother Jones magazine reported:
“Using those measurements, the plaintiffs estimated that some workers lost less than $50 in wages during the period covered by the suit. But for others, according to Scott Michelman, a lawyer from the Public Citizen Litigation Group representing the workers, the lost pay was upwards of $9,000. In all, after a nine-day trial, a jury concluded in 2011 that between 2004 and 2010, Tyson had stiffed workers nearly $3 million in wages under this system. The jury added additional damages to the award, bringing the total to nearly $6 million.”
In short, these aren’t inconsequential losses for workers, even though they might be for employers. Still, that doesn’t stop these companies from grabbing every cent they can. It is despicable, and shows why joining a union like the Teamsters is as important today as it’s ever been.