Wednesday, February 27, 2008, 10:05 AM

Collective Action Filed Against Smithfield Foods' Pork Processing Facility

Another "donning and doffing" collective action lawsuit has been filed in federal court in North Carolina. Targeting Smithfield Foods' pork processing facility in Tar Heel, North Carolina, a would-be class of current and former production and support employees claim that they were not paid all wages and overtime they were due.

This new proposed collective action comes on the heels of a similar suit filed last year by workers at another Smithfield facility in North Carolina. This suit mirrors the donning and doffing suits that are being aimed at the poultry processing industry, as we noted here last week.

Alleging violations of the FLSA and North Carolina's Wage and Hour Act, the thrust of plaintiff's complaint is that they were not compensated for donning and doffing time, nor for time spent preparing for work, obtaining and sanitizing equipment and clothing, and walking between worksites. According to the plaintiffs, this uncompensated time occurred before and after working time and during unpaid lunch breaks.

Interestingly, the plaintiffs concede that Smithfield had a policy of paying employees who had to wear certain protective gear four minutes per day for "clothes changing time." Other than that, however, the plaintiffs contend that Smithfield only paid workers for time actually working on the production line, which they termed "gang time" or "line time." When all unpaid time was actually added up, the plaintiffs claim that class members spent "as much as 35 minutes or more per day performing uncompensated work."

The plaintiffs believe that at least 5000 current and former Smithfield employees are members of the class, and that they are owed in excess of $5 million, plus interest, costs and attorneys fees.

The action is captioned Jerome McNeil & Sidney L. Townsend v. Smithfield Foods, Inc. & Smithfield Packing Company, Inc., and is pending in the U.S. District for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Insiders suggest it is not coincidental that Smithfield recently filed a major lawsuit against the United Food & Commercial Workers, with which the company has had a long-running series of disputes arising out of the attempted unionization of the company's Tar Heel plant. (Tar Heel is a small community in northern Bladen County, NC, about 20 miles south of Fayetteville; Smithfield is by far the largest employer in the County.)

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