Ensure collective bargaining agreements spell out exact wage-and-hour terms

Here’s a case that illustrates at least one advantage for em­­ployers to a union workplace. If your collective bargaining agreement spells out how pay is calculated and excludes time spent donning and doffing work clothes and safety equipment, a contrary state wage-and-hour law doesn’t apply.

Recent case: Calvin and a large group of chicken processors sued their employer, alleging they should have been paid for the time they put on and took off work clothes and equipment before taking up positions on the production line. They claimed state wage-and-hour rules said they should be paid for the time.

The company argued that paying strictly for “line time” spent actually processing chickens had been negotiated as part of the union contract in exchange for a raise in pay. It urged the court to find that a union agreement trumped state law because union contracts are subject to the federal Labor Management Rela­­tions Act (LMRA).

A lower court disagreed, but the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and sided with the company. It said the LMRA pre-empts state law and that unions and em­­ployers can craft their own rules on donning and doffing clothing and safety equipment. (Barton, et al., v. House of Raeford Farms, No. 12-1943, 4th Cir., 2014)

Final note: Facing a union for the first time? Be sure to get expert help crafting the first contract so your company benefits. The first contract serves as the starting point for all those to come.

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