A group of Indiana steelworkers is awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision on when the clock starts on their shifts at U.S. Steel Gary Works.
The nation’s highest court recently heard arguments in a case filed by eight people challenging Gary Works’ definition of when their shifts start.
The workers argue that employees should be paid from the time they don protective gear required for their jobs. The company says the clock should start when they reach the work floor because federal law says companies don’t have to pay employees for changing into their clothes.
But the plaintiffs – seven men and women from Indiana and one Illinois man – say the gear isn’t normal clothing and is required to protect them from hazards at the plant.
Appeals courts have split on the issue. One court ruled that anything worn on the body, including a police officer’s gun, is considered clothing. Another found that only items worn for comfort and protection from the normal elements are considered clothing.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled in favor of U.S. Steel, sparking the appeal to the Supreme Court.
The case is one of about 100 chosen to be heard by the high court this year out of thousands submitted, according to the Post-Tribune. It has been winding through the courts since the employees filed the lawsuit in December 2007.
“I’m just glad there are some people in Washington, D.C., that are moving through cases,” said plaintiff Herbert Harris of Gary.
Attorney Aaron Maduff said the time workers spend traveling by bus to a special area to change into their gear and then taking another bus to their work area can add up to two hours for which they aren’t paid.
“They’re asking for (the pay) because of the dangers of the workplace,” Maduff said.
The required gear includes hard hats, earplugs, respirators and chemically treated pants.
Maduff said he doesn’t have a feel for how the justices will rule. He noted that some of the justices, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, didn’t seem to agree with the plaintiffs during the oral arguments.
“You never know what the justices are going to come down with,” he said. “I just don’t know.”
The ruling is expected to come next summer.