Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Tyson Foods Keeps Getting Sued by Its Own Employees

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Tyson Foods Keeps Getting Sued by Its Own Employees

Article excerpt

Some justices on the US Supreme Court seemed sympathetic towards 3,000 Tyson Foods workers who sued their employer for "wage theft," after the company continually failed to pay workers at a pork plant in Iowa for overtime, as mandated by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

In the case Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, the employees formed a class action suit against Tyson, arguing they were not paid for the time it took to put on and take off protective gear, lunch breaks, and other tasks outside the immediate job description. Tyson has practiced a "gang system," where workers' pay clock only starts when they reach the processing line, cheating their workers out of 18-21 minutes of pay each day - a violation of FLSA. The workers proved their damages by averaging videotape observations of how long it took the workers to prepare for work.

Argued Tuesday before the Supreme Court, the world's second- largest meat processor asked the court to throw out the case which resulted in a $5.8 million jury verdict against the company, The New York Times reported. Tyson said the workers should calculate losses individually, rather than rely on a statistical average. However David Frederick, a lawyer for the workers, argued that the averaging approach was legitimate because the employees rotate among different assignments.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor seemed to agree with Frederick, when she interrupted Tyson lawyer Carter Phillips as he was explaining why the workers' statistical study was inappropriate. "Mr. Phillips," she said, throwing her hand up in the air, "I'm completely at a loss as to what you're complaining about."

The company also argued that their employees are not eligible for a class action lawsuit because their jobs are too different. Tyson's lawyers say the ruling is illegitimate because the workers participating in the case have different jobs, therefore different grievances. …

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