Workers Win Important Supreme Court Wage Case


The Supreme Court took a stand for workers yesterday, ordering Tyson Foods to pay some $6 million in back overtime pay to workers at an Iowa pork processing plant that were not paid for the time it took to put on and take off protective gear each workday.

As part of its 6-to-2 decision, the high court majority affirmed a lower court ruling that said the mega-meat processor was in the wrong for refusing to allow its workers to punch a time clock until after they donned the gear they need for work. While there was no record of how much work time workers should be credited, video evidence from recorded cameras in the facility was enough to determine how much workers were due, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.

In the lead up to Tyson Foods v. Peg Bouaphakeo et al, the AFL-CIO, Chicago-based pro-worker Interfaith Worker Justice and the National Employment Law Project all filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the Tyson workers. The IWJ-NELP brief told the justices that letting Tyson get away with its behavior would reward employers for breaking the law by not keeping accurate records of time their workers toiled.

They argued the case was important to all workers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act – the wage and overtime law – who are forced to sue when they don’t get paid.

The lawsuit was one of several the Supreme Court has held this session that were expected to have a profound impact on workers. Unions are still anxiously awaiting a decision in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case.

Most had agreed it seemed unlikely unions would prevail in the case when it was heard earlier this year. That was until Justice Antonin Scalia died last month. Since then, authorities have speculated the decision will likely end in a deadlock, which would allow unions to be able to continue to collect collective bargaining fees from non-members they represent.