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Tyson and Labour Dept reach agreement

Tyson Foods and the US Department of Labour (DOL) have reached an agreement that could serve as a model for the way some workers in the poultry industry are paid.

Tyson and the government filed a joint motion in federal court to resolve a May 2002 DOL lawsuit, which sought back wages at the company's Blountsville, Alabama, poultry plant and prospective injunctive relief at the company's other poultry processing facilities. The DOL alleged the company violated federal law by not paying overtime compensation to workers for putting on and taking off certain sanitary and protective clothing before and after their production shifts. Company officials denied any wrongdoing and said the case is an example of an ongoing, nationwide legal debate over what types of activities are compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

According to Tyson, the company's position was almost completely vindicated in November 2009 when a federal jury in Birmingham, Alabama found no evidence of a recordkeeping violation by the company and awarded only $250,000 of the $8 million the DOL requested for workers at the Blountsville plant. The money was meant to compensate 3,000 workers for overtime wages over a 10 year period.

The company and DOL subsequently negotiated the resolution, which was filed in court recently. Under the agreement, Tyson will gradually modify timekeeping practices at its poultry plants and certain prepared foods plants over the next 2.5 years. The company will provide 8 or 12 minutes of extra pay per shift on an interim basis to certain hourly processing line workers. By December 2012, the company will implement a more permanent modification, making arrangements for workers to "clock in" before they put on certain clothing items and "clock out" after the clothing items are taken off.

Source: Tyson Foods

Natalie Berkhout

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