Chicken Processing Workers' Suit Stays Alive

January 30, 2002 ( - A lawsuit by group of current and former workers at a Maine chicken processing plant, who claim they should be paid for putting on and taking off their required safety clothes, has cleared its first legal hurdle.

US Magistrate David Cohen, of the US District Court for the District of Maine, ruled that the employee group’s lawsuit against Barber Foods of Portland, Maine should move forward, according to a Bureau of National Affairs report.

However, Cohen recommended that the worker claim that employees should also be paid for walking to their work stations from the plant’s front door, waiting to punch in or out, for bathroom breaks, and medical visits should be thrown out.

A magistrate’s recommendation like Cohen’s will typically go to a district judge who issues the final trial court ruling.

Barber Made Workers Be at Station on Time

According to the suit’s history in Cohen’s decision, Barber expected the seven current and 37 former employees to be at their workstations when their shifts began. 

Barber paid them from the time they punched in, and gave the workers paid breaks of 15 minutes and 10 minutes during the course of each shift. In addition to those breaks, the workers received an extra paid five minutes to get to and from the production floor.

They also received an unpaid 30-minute meal break, along with another five-minute break at lunchtime to get to and from the production floor.

Cohen said the company made workers wear sanitary or safety clothing before heading onto the production floor. He explained that during busy times, there were lines at coat racks, sanitary clothing bins, or the time clock.

The workers charged that Barber didn’t keep proper time records so they were denied proper compensation. 

Lawyers for Barber, however, argued that federal law doesn’t cover workers’ traveling to and from the place where they perform their principal duties and for activities which are “preliminary and postliminary” to their primary duties.

The case is Tum v. Barber Foods Inc.