WASHINGTON — Tyson Foods Inc. has settled a decade-long dispute with the Labor Department by agreeing to pay workers at poultry plants for time they spend putting on and taking off protective clothing.
Federal officials have insisted that poultry companies pay employees for all hours worked, including donning and doffing sanitary gear before and after their shifts. Tyson officials said the case was an example of a nationwide legal debate over what types of activities must receive pay.
In a consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Ala., Tyson also agreed to pay certain poultry workers for time washing and sanitizing themselves as well as time spent waiting between tasks.
Under the agreement, the company will pay $500,000 in overtime back wages to nearly 3,000 workers at its Blountsville, Ala., plant.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said the agreement means Tyson employees “will receive the full wages that they rightfully earn and deserve.”
The Labor Department reached a similar agreement earlier this year with poultry processor Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. It had accused both companies of violating federal law by not paying workers for all tasks.
Government officials hope the settlements with the nation’s two largest poultry-processing companies will set the standard for smaller processors nationwide.
Tyson admits to no wrongdoing under the consent decree, which affects up to 38,000 of its U.S. employees at poultry and certain prepared food plants. The company has 117,000 workers worldwide.
“We’ve decided to resolve this case and modify our pay practices for certain jobs in order to avoid the continued expense and disruption of further litigation,” said Ken Kimbro, senior vice president of human resources for Tyson Foods.