Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Tyson Foods workers who sought to band together in a single, class action lawsuit against Tyson Foods regarding overtime pay.
As our union family knows, work inside a pork processing plant can be grueling and dangerous. From slaughtering hogs, to trimming meat or preparing shipments, workers in all areas of the Tyson pork processing plant were being forced to spend unpaid time before and after their shifts donning and doffing protective gear.
To remedy this, the workers decided to band together and bring forth a class action lawsuit against Tyson Foods seeking overtime pay for the time they spent taking protective gear on and off, arguing that this unpaid time made them all spend more than 40 hours per week at work.
Tyson never kept records of the amount of time people spent putting protective gear on and then taking it off, so the workers tried to prove the amount of damages they were owed through representative proof – which came from expert witnesses’ statistical inferences from hundreds of videotaped observations of how long it took workers to get ready. The expert witnesses determined that an employee in the cut and retrim departments averaged 18 minutes per day and a kill department employee averaged 21.25 minutes per day.
Tyson objected to this representative proof, arguing that there was wide variation in how long the extra work took and that some workers took less time, implying not everyone in the suit was working more than 40 hours per week.
The Supreme Court sided with the workers and said that the statistical proof was sufficient enough and that a class action was properly certified because the question common to class members – whether time spent donning and doffing protective gear is work that should be compensated – dominates over any questions the company had about individual members.