Plant Workers Sue Over 'Donning and Doffing'; House Skips Town as Tax Deadline Looms

Plant Workers Sue Over 'Donning and Doffing'
Two Colorado poultry plant production workers sued to have their employer pay them—and other members of their class—for the time they spent "donning and doffing" what's called personal protective equipment. In preparation for cutting up turkeys, they were required to put on aprons, frocks, gloves, plastic sleeves, hard hats, special footwear, arm guards, and knife guards before their shifts began. As you can imagine, the workers employed at a Butterball plant in Longmont also had to remove the equipment for their morning break, put it back on, remove it for the lunch break, and so on to the end of the day. And, they had to walk back and forth from the donning and doffing area to the production line—all on unpaid time. As judges learned, prior to 2009, when the suit reached federal district court, workers had never been paid for those activities. Butterball bought the plant in 2006 from ConAgra, which had not paid for the time, and the issue was not mentioned in the workers' collective bargaining agreement, nor had it ever been negotiated. That was one problem, since the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) appears to exempt from payment such time if has been "excluded … by custom or practice" or under a union contract. But there was another problem: The federal Department of Labor (DOL) has changed its opinion on the issue several times. Does such safety equipment qualify as "clothes"? Turns out it depends on when you ask. In 1997, under the Bush administration, DOL issued an opinion letter saying that such protective equipment is clothing; FLSA says that employees can be asked to change their clothes and wash without compensation. But in the spring of 2010, the agency reversed itself and announced that the gear is not clothing. Faced with those two issues, the district judge ruled in Butterball's favor. The two workers appealed to the 10th Circuit, which covers Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. (Continued).

House Skips Town as Tax Deadline Looms
By: Jake Sherman and Seung Min Kim
Taxes are set to go up on 160 million Americans in a few weeks. But there’s little sign of urgency — let alone progress — coming out of Washington.
House lawmakers dashed out of town Thursday for a four-day weekend, but not before engaging in another round of sniping. Meanwhile, the clock continued to tick toward the end-of-month expiration of the 2 percent payroll tax holiday. Democrats formally rejected two GOP measures to rework unemployment insurance – provisions that Republicans say are needed to gain their support to extend the tax credit. One tweak would force people who receive unemployment benefits to be enrolled in a GED program, another would allow states to require drug testing for recipients. Democrats also offered to trim unemployment benefits from 99 weeks to 93 weeks, according to the proposal received by Republican aides late Wednesday night. The posturing has some onlookers unnerved. Aides in both chambers are looking at the calendar with great concern. Congress will be out of session for a week beginning Feb. 20 – just a few days before the tax cut is slated to expire. The general consensus is that next week needs to yield an agreement. “They need to get moving,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday. (Continued).