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Tyson Foods fights against workers' right to class action status

There is power in numbers and that's one of the main reasons why the preservation of class action lawsuits among wronged employees is so important. Collectively, employees who are granted class action status have a much louder voice than any one or handful of employees acting alone.

To an employer, an employment class action lawsuit is readily viewed as a worst-case scenario. A recent wage theft case, Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, is currently being debated by members of the U.S. Supreme Court and the court's decision in this case will be viewed as either a major victory or blow to workers' rights.

The $30 billion U.S. meat processing company, Tyson Foods is no stranger to wage theft lawsuits. The company's first take at defending against such claims came in 1988 when it was sued by the U.S. Department of Labor over the way it kept track of the number of hours employees worked. Using a method known as the gang system, employees are compensated for a 40-hour work week based on their start time on the processing line. This system does not, however, take into account the time workers spend donning required safety and other gear.

After years of litigating the case, a judge finally ruled in 1996 against Tyson and cited the company for violating portions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. In response, rather than instituting a system where employees clocked in when they arrived at work, Tyson conducted a study to determine the average amount of time it took employees to put on safety gear, "a unit of time they referred to as 'K time'."

The U.S. Department of Labor again sued the company in 2000 for its continued failures to accurately follow record-keeping laws which, in 2009, again returned a judgment against Tyson. Still the company refused to change its record-keeping methods. In 2007, workers at a Tyson plant in Iowa again sued their employer alleging wage theft.

In this case, to estimate the average number of minutes for which workers were not paid, an expert for the plaintiffs evaluated more than 700 videos of workers getting ready to start on the line. Based on these videos, it was determined that, on a daily basis, workers were being cheated out of between 18 to 21 minutes of pay.

In our next blog post, we'll continue to discuss the class action wage theft case against Tyson Foods.

Source: Mother Jones, "Tyson Foods Wants the Supreme Court to Block Its Employees From Suing for Wage Theft," Stephanie Mencimer, Nov. 10, 2015

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