AUSTIN (AP) -- Workers at a slaughterhouse in this southern Minnesota city are suing their employer for allegedly failing to pay them for putting in overtime.
The workers filed a lawsuit against Quality Pork Processors this month in Minneapolis federal court. They say the company broke federal and state labor laws by not paying employees for time spent on job-related functions before and after their shifts, including sterilizing safety equipment and sharpening knives.
Texas-based Quality Pork employs about 1,000 Austin meatpackers. About 670 of them have signed statements agreeing to "opt in" to the potential class-action case, said Robert Metcalf, a Minneapolis attorney representing the plaintiffs.
Metcalf estimated his clients are owed more than $1 million in back pay for uncompensated time during work hours as well as for work done before and after their shifts.
Dale Wicks, personnel director at Quality Pork in Austin, declined to comment.
The case is the latest of several lawsuits slaughterhouse workers have lodged against U.S. meatpackers since the U.S. Department of Labor issued a 1997 opinion letter on work before and after a shift.
The letter said that the industry's practice of not paying union slaughterhouse workers for work-related activities before and after their shifts violates the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, Metcalf said.
Under federal law, employers don't have to pay workers for the time they spend before and after work changing clothes or washing. But the Labor Department letter said meatpacking firms must pay production workers for putting on, taking off and washing safety gear because it is an essential part of their jobs.
"The object is to get people paid for what they are owed," Metcalf said. "We are not trying to get a windfall."
Metcalf's firm has taken on similar lawsuits for about 2,300 meatpackers at Swift plants in Worthington and in Marshalltown, Iowa. The law firm also represents about 1,200 Excel meatpackers in Ottumwa, Iowa.
Quality Pork, which is in the Hormel Foods Corp. meatpacking plant in Austin, supplies the Fortune 500 company with slaughtered pigs for its processing operations.
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