Supreme Court: pay for time to takes to suit up
WASHINGTON (PAI)—By a 6-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court gave workers a win on March 24, ruling workers at a Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Iowa – and by implication, workers in general – should be paid for the time it takes to put on work gear.
The win is expected to net the 2,900 affected workers just over $1,000 each they lost because Tyson didn’t pay them for time they spend donning and doffing protective gear, such as heavy aprons, boots and face shields and goggles. Federal law requires such payments.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said that because Tyson did not keep accurate records of the time workers spent donning and doffing the protective gear, the workers could use statistical evidence by an outside expert to prove that, as a class, they should earn back pay. Tyson argued that because the workers’ protective gear changed day by day, they did not have a common cause they could use for a class-action suit to recover the lost pay. The workers said their common cause was that they all illegally lost money, and Kennedy agreed.
“Whether and when statistical evidence can be used to establish class-wide liability depends on the purpose for which the evidence is being introduced and on the elements of the underlying cause of action,” Kennedy said. “Because a representative sample may be the only feasible way to establish liability, it cannot be deemed improper merely because the claim is brought on behalf of a class.”
Wage hikes still can't get traction
Average wage growth in the U.S. is staying about the same as it has in the past, and that's not good news for the nation's economic health.
That's according to the Economic Policy Institute, which reported in March that between 2014 and 2015, average hourly nominal wages for private-sector workers grew 2.2 percent, in line with the 2.0–2.2 percent trend over the previous six years.
"At that slow rate," the EPI said, "this crucial measure illustrates just how far the economy remains from a full recovery, let alone full employment. The weakened labor market of the last seven years has put enormous downward pressure on wages. Employers still don’t have to offer substantial wage increases to attract or retain the workers they want, even as the recovery has forged ahead in recent years."
The slow wage growth has actually been going on for decades. The EPI said since 1979, had all U.S. workers' wages risen in line with higher productivity, Americans earning $50,000 today would instead be earning $75,000.
"A hugely disproportionate share of economic gains from rising productivity is going to the top 1 percent and to corporate profits, instead of to ordinary workers—who are more productive and educated than ever," the EPI report said.