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Iowa workers win in Supreme Court

In a somewhat surprising victory, Iowa workers at a Tyson Foods processing plant in Storm Lake had a $2.9 million judgment in their favor upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The law suit originated over whether workers were being properly paid for the time necessary to put on and take off the personal protective equipment the must wear for the jobs on the plant's "kill" floor and for those who work at processing the animals in the "fabrication" floor.

This case involved arguments by Tyson that it should not have been faced with a class action. Tyson argued that the representative evidence used to determine the compensation owed the workers should not have been allowed. They claimed that evidence was a "trial by formula" that a previous Supreme Court case should have disallowed.

This Court, however, found that this kind of evidence has been allowed for 70 years and what matters is whether it is reliable. The opinion also noted that it may be the only practical evidence available. Tyson made it the only evidence available because the company failed to keep proper records for the overtime of each worker, which it is required to do by law.

Working in these food-processing plants is terribly demanding and dangerous work. The use of personal protective gear is essential, and even with this equipment, workers can be easily injured in such an environment. It is unfair for employers to exploit workers by forcing them to, in essence, change into and out of these clothes on their own time.

It is the employer who benefits from workers staying safe. This case, however, is not over, as it will go back to the lower court to determine if the allocation of the compensation is accurate, as Tyson argues some could go to those who did not suffer any lost overtime.

Source:, "Justices rule for Iowa workers in Tyson Foods pay dispute," Mark Sherman, Associated Press, March 22, 2016

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