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When Do Factory Shifts Really End?

Having each workday shortened by 10 minutes sounds nice, but if it also meant 10 minutes less pay, would you agree to it?

This article originally appeared in IMPO's April print edition. To view the digital version, click here.

Every once in a while, a news item pops up about employees claiming to be short-changed and/or uncompensated for work that their employer deemed to be “not work.” Sometimes this is in regards to duties employees say should be worth additional hazard pay, sometimes it’s a matter of what can and can’t be put on an expense report and sometimes the issue is about seemingly routine duties that for one reason or another an employer feels aren’t crucial to doing one’s job.

The latter is the issue at hand in two recent cases in my home state of Wisconsin, both made public in early March.

At the canning plant for Hormel Foods in Beloit, WI, on the state’s southern border, the Supreme Court ruled 4-2 that Hormel owes hundreds of workers back wages for time they spent putting on and taking off required clothing and equipment. Hormel’s attorney argued that the company didn’t have to pay workers for time spent taking gear on and off because it wasn’t crucial to workers’ activities, claiming they could accomplish their tasks without wearing it.

Court documents showed that Hormel requires workers to wear company-provided food safety apparel which can’t be worn outside the plant. Employees had to be dressed, checked in and at their workstations on time, with pay beginning at the start and end of their shift, not at the time of check in and check out.

Such cases amaze me that they still happen, given how much OSHA and other safety associations have cracked down on factory practices.

In the food manufacturing industry, the challenge of safety is twofold — the safety of employees, and the food itself. In such facilities, the issue of clothing and wearable equipment is obviously paramount given the strict level of sanitation and cleanliness involved. Sure, technically workers can prepare canned food without such gear, but at what cost? Workers forgoing such gear is an injury lawsuit or product recall waiting to happen.

The second case is at Oshkosh Corp. in Oshkosh, WI, where current and former employees have sued subsidiary Pierce Manufacturing — which makes fire trucks — for an “unlawful compensation system” that shaved at least 10 minutes off of employees’ wages each day, which employees say the company enacted to allow them to spend more time with their families. The suit says the time was impermissibly deducted and should have been compensated as time-and-a-half pay.

Pierce announced in February that it would change its break policy and shorten shifts by at least 10 minutes.

This is a different animal than at Hormel, as Pierce employees apparently weren’t informed that by shortening the workday by 10 minutes, their daily wages were adjusted accordingly.

Having each workday shortened by 10 minutes sounds nice, but if it also meant 10 minutes less pay, would you agree to it?

IMPO is always on the looking for companies to visit and feature in our IMPO Onsite. These articles tell the stories of manufacturing businesses, how their facilities operate and their culture. If you think your company is deserving of such a feature, shoot me an email at [email protected]

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