Supreme Court Denies Back Pay to U.S. Steel Workers
The Supreme Court has ruled that union employees are not entitled to compensation for the time they spend “donning and doffing” protective gear at an Indiana steel plant. In the case of Sandifer v. U.S. Steel Corp., Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel Corp. was sued by 800 current and former employees at its facility in Gary, Indiana. The employees brought the suit requesting overtime and back pay for the time they spent putting on and taking off their personal protective gear, and for time spent traveling to their workstations.
The employee’s protective gear can include a flame-retardant jacket, pair of pants, and hood; a hardhat; a snood; wristlets; work gloves; leggings; metatarsal boots; safety glasses; earplugs; and/or a respirator. The employees claimed they spend as much as an hour before and after their shifts donning protective gear and then traveling to their workstations.
The Fair Labor Standards Act specifically excludes “changing clothes” from the time for which unionized employees must be paid, unless they have negotiated otherwise with their employer. The employees’ collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Steel stated that workers were paid only for the eight-hour shift they worked at their workstations and specifically excluded the time spent donning and doffing protective equipment and travel time between the locker room and the workstations. The workers argued that their protective gear isn’t “clothes” because its primary function is to protect against workplace hazards. The Supreme Court disagreed and ruled that safety gear generally fits within the definition of “changing clothes.”
Litigation Attorney Graig Schultz supports the firm’s Employment Law Group, representing small and large businesses, non-profits, and municipalities.