Chickenfeed

CHICKENFEED….Do companies have to pay workers for time spent donning and doffing protective gear? Yes they do. The Supreme Court said so in 1946.

In response, Congress passed the Portal-to-Portal Act in 1947. It stated that companies were not required to pay employees for traveling to or from their place of work, or for activities that were “preliminary or postliminary” to work.

So how about that protective gear? Does putting it on count as preliminary? Nope. The Supreme Court decided in 1956 that it was a “principal activity” that still needed to be compensated.

Damn. But perhaps….if we look hard enough….there’s still a thin sliver of something in there that shouldn’t be compensated. After all, a few minutes a day times thousands of workers can really add up. But what?

How about this: the time spent walking to the assembly line after donning protective gear but before the first piece of work comes down the line. How about if we deduct that from worker paychecks?

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that this claim was idiotic (“unpersusasive” was the more restrained term used by the court). Good for them. After all, both common sense and statutory law suggest that if donning protective gear is work, and if dressing meat on the assembly line is work, then the time required by the company to get from one to the other is also work.

But the real story here is that IBP Inc., a meatpacker owned by Tyson Foods, litigated this all the way to the Supreme Court. They tried their best, using thousands of billable hours from the finest legal talent they could buy, to screw their workers out of the few minutes a day it took them to walk from the locker room to the assembly line and back. Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?

POSTSCRIPT: “Postliminary”? WTF? Labor law sure does have some weird terms.