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Employees at beef-processing plant JBS in Greeley, Colo., failed to prove that they were entitled to be paid wages for alleged uncompensated work under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), according to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The plaintiffs, who were paid under the terms of a collective bargaining agreements (CBA) worked on the slaughter line and the fabrication line at JBS—work that required the daily use of safety gear and sanitary clothing.
In 2000, JBS measured the times required for various tasks, including donning and doffing clothing and protective gear, and cleaning safety clothing and equipment, and factored these measurements into the CBA as compensable time. Time spent engaging in such tasks was referred to as “plug time.” In 2010, additional plug time was negotiated to account for pre- and post-shift walking between the locker room and the production floor.
In their complaint, the employees sought to recover unpaid wages for alleged uncompensated work, including pre- and post-shift time spent donning and doffing clothing and protective gear, washing equipment and themselves, and walking to and from their job posts. The workers also sought compensation for their entire meal break, or at least for their time donning, doffing, washing and walking at the beginning and the end of the meal break.
After a bench trial, the district court ruled that the plaintiffs had not shown the uncompensated work time to exceed the plug time they had been accorded in the CBA and entered judgment in favor of JBS.
On appeal, the employees contended that they had not been compensated properly by the plug time paid by JBS and that they were entitled to compensation for the time during their meal break in which they engaged in walking, washing, donning and doffing.
The 10th Circuit affirmed the district court, but it did so on alternate grounds. The court of appeals first determined that walk times between the locker rooms and production floors
at the beginning and end of each shift were not considered compensable work time before plug times for that activity were added to the 2010 CBA. The court also determined that if time spent performing an activity is noncompensable (i.e., walk times or donning and doffing), it
does not become a principal activity merely because some otherwise-noncompensable activities were paid under the CBA. The court further stated that deference should be given to the collective bargaining process and the terms of the CBA.
The appeals court affirmed the determination of the district court that the plaintiffs were not owed any additional compensation for donning, doffing and walking during their meal break, as they had not met their burden of showing that the plug times for that period were inadequate.
Castaneda v. JBS USA LLC, 10th Cir., No. 14-1217 (March. 31, 2016).
Professional Pointer: This case highlights the importance of addressing what is and is not considered compensable time in CBAs, as well as in other employment contracts and work policies. The employer should decide exactly what activities it will compensate and the manner in which those activities will be compensated. By pre-emptively addressing such issues, an employer may seek to avoid future litigation over unpaid work time.
W. Kevin Smith and Jacob W. Crouse are attorneys with Smith and Smith Attorneys, the
Worklaw® Network member firm in Louisville, Ky.
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