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Supreme Court: Tyson Foods Must Pay Its Workers

Tyson Foods has been ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to pay nearly $5.8 million in back-wages to 3,000 workers who claimed they were underpaid.

The Issues At Stake For Tyson Foods

In a 6-2 ruling, the Court upheld a 2014 decision by the Federal Appeals Court which said that workers for Tyson Foods must be paid overtime for the time it took them to put on and take off protective equipment at an Iowa pork-processing facility.

According to the Associated Press, attorneys for the workers claimed that putting on the protective equipment was necessary to do their job “before wielding sharp knives in slaughtering and processing the animals.”

“The opinion relied on a 70-year-old Supreme Court decision that allows workers to use statistical evidence in lawsuits over compensation when their employer doesn’t keep adequate records of their hours.”

When the case was being heard last November, an analysis by the Huffington Post summarized the arguments that attorneys for Tyson Foods made before the Supreme Court.

“The company does not dispute that the workers should have been paid for the hours in question. Rather, Tyson argues that the statistical method a court used to determine damages for the workers was legally bogus, and that the workers therefore aren’t eligible to sue collectively.”

A Victory For Workers, Labor Unions

Today, a majority of Justices on the Supreme Court agreed with the employees. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that not using statistical analysis in this case “would make little sense.”

This class-action case, Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, has been working its way through the courts since 2007, according to Reuters News Service.

Supreme Court orders Tyson Foods to pay $5.8 million in back wages
[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas (joined by Justice Samuel Alito) dissented in part because he felt that Tyson Foods had been “prejudiced” by inadequate research from the lower courts.

“Before class-action plaintiffs can use representative evidence in this way, district courts must undertake a rigorous analysis to ensure that such evidence is sufficiently probative of the individual issue to make it susceptible to classwide proof. The District Court did not satisfy that obligation here, and its failure to do so prejudiced defendant Tyson Foods at trial.”

If the Justices had sided with Tyson Foods, then it would have made it much harder for a large number of employees to have a class-action suit.

Scott Michelman, a lawyer with Public Citizen who represented the employees of Tyson Foods, declared victory in a statement.

“Today’s decision is a strong reaffirmation of workers’ rights to join together in taking their employer to court for failing to pay wages due under state and federal laws. The Supreme Court rejected the corporate defense bar’s strong push to eliminate the ability of workers and consumers to litigate common claims through class actions – which are critical to holding corporations accountable for systemic wrongdoing.”

This is not the first time Tyson Foods has been engaged in litigation involving its employees. In 2012, the multi-billion dollar company was forced to pay $2.2 million in damages to an employee who had been injured on the job.

On its website, Tyson Foods is described as “one of the world’s largest processors and marketers of chicken, beef and pork, as well as prepared foods.”

Headquartered in Springdale, Arkansas, Tyson Foods employs over 100,000 workers in 400 facilities in America and around the world.

What do you think? Did the Supreme Court make the right decision in awarding Tyson Food’s employees back-pay?

[Photo by Tyson Foods Logo/AP Images]

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