In a big win for workers at the Hormel Food plant in Beloit, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s decision that workers must be paid for time spent getting into and out of company-mandated clothing and equipment.
In 2010, the workers’ union, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1473, and several employees filed a class action lawsuit in Rock County over Hormel’s failure to pay for the time employees spend changing into and out of uniforms and safety gear at Hormel’s Beloit processing plant that can chili and other products. Hormel requires its Beloit employees to put on and then take off uniforms and safety equipment, but does not count the time spent as work time.
In 2013, Rock County Judge Michael Fitzpatrick ordered Hormel to pay over $190,000 in back pay to the members of class who were affected by Hormel’s policy of not counting the time spent in the off the clock activities as work time under Wisconsin law. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld that decision and stated that workers must be paid for the time getting dressed moving forward.
It is estimated that it takes five to six minutes each day to put on the proper equipment, adding up to around 24 hours a year in unpaid time and wages.
“We are pleased that a majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed that the time spent by workers putting on and taking off uniforms and safety gear must be counted as time worked and that workers must be paid for that time,” stated John Eiden, President of the UFCW 1473. “Under Wisconsin law, these tasks that an employer requires be done on its premises must be considered as work. This is the first time in years that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld worker rights.”
“Local 1473 stands ready to help workers enforce their rights under state and federal laws and stands ready to protect their rights to act in solidarity to obtain those rights,” continued Eiden.
Eiden thanked the Union’s lawyers, Mark Sweet and Jack Loomis, for successfully litigating the case before the trial court and on appeal. Eiden concluded that he looks forward to working with Hormel to fix pay practices at the Beloit plant.
At a time when labor is under attack across the country, the Supreme Court decision amplifies the plain fact that organized labor remains the best method for demanding workplace justice -- whether through the courts or at the bargaining table when workers come together through unions, workers win.