Kraft, Oscar Mayer workers sue over pay

Associated Press
Posted11/15/2010 3:20 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Employees at the Oscar Mayer meat processing plant in Davenport have filed a class action lawsuit seeking compensation for time they spend putting on and taking off their safety equipment.

The lawsuit, filed last week in federal court in Davenport, claims employees are not paid while they don and doff uniforms, safety footwear, hairnets, gloves, earplugs, glasses and hard hats before and after their shifts in violation of state and federal law.


Four current employees are the plaintiffs in the case. Their attorneys are seeking to represent a class of 1,750 employees at the plant, which produces lunchmeats made of pork, beef and poultry.

The lawsuit names Oscar Mayer's parent company, Kraft Foods Global, Inc., which promised to fight the lawsuit.

"We believe we are in full compliance with federal and Iowa law and plan to vigorously defend the suit," spokeswoman Rachel Larsen said in a statement.

The filing follows a similar case involving roughly 780 employees at an Oscar Mayer meat processing plant in Madison, Wis., who stand to receive millions in back pay if they prevail in their lawsuit.

Lawyers for the workers say they are likely to be awarded more than $4 million under a settlement agreement reached last year. The settlement allowed Kraft to get out of the payment if the company was successful in convincing judges the employees were not entitled to compensation under state or federal law.

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A federal appeals court in Chicago ruled in favor of the workers in August, saying they are entitled to be paid for that time under Wisconsin law in what judges called the first appellate ruling of its kind.

Lawyers for Kraft last month asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case; justices have not decided whether to do so. The company and a labor union had argued they reached a compromise not to pay employees for equipment time in a collective bargaining agreement.

The Iowa lawsuit says employees are required to put on equipment in a locker room, but do not get paid until they swipe their timecards when they arrive at their workstations. They then are required to punch out at the end of their shifts before walking to the locker room to take off the equipment.

The lawsuit claims the company's practice violates the Fair Labor Standards Act and asks a judge to order Kraft to start paying employees for that time. The employees are seeking their total back wages and overtime they say they are owed, plus additional damages and attorneys fees.

The lawsuit says Kraft has not kept records showing how much time employees have spent donning and doffing equipment, but the practice goes back at least three years.