Thursday, November 10, 2005

Much Ado about Donning

The U.S. Supreme Court, in the first case argued before Chief Justice Roberts,
ruled on November 8 that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires two meat-packing companies to pay employees for time walking within the plant to their workstations after the employees don specialized protective gear, plus time spent at the end of the day walking back and waiting to doff such gear. (IBP v. Alvarez, No. 03 1238, and Tum v. Barber Foods, Inc., No. 04 66.)
All right, so the Court didn't find the FLSA unconstitutional, much as I would welcome such a result. The Court's reticence in that respect is unsurprising, given that the FLSA has survived (with amendments) these 70 years.

In any event, the Court wasted its time in requiring the meat-packing companies to pay employees for the time involved in the activities covered by its ruling. Sooner or later, the real hourly wages paid the workers who wear special protective clothing and/or the number of such workers will be reduced to compensate for the fact that the Court's ruling does not make those workers any more productive than they were before the ruling. The intial boost in employees' pay (hourly wages times the amount of time spent in donning, doffing, and walking) will have to come from somewhere -- and the somewhere is wage rates and/or employment.

Yes, the adjustment will take some time -- especially because the companies affected by the ruling must negotiate with unions. But it will happen because consumers aren't going to demand more meat products or pay higher prices for meat products just because the Supreme Court has chosen to waste its time enforcing the FLSA.

(The quotation above is from an e-mail sent by the Richmond, Virginia, law firm of McGuireWoods.)