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Castaneda v. JBS USA, LLC

United States District Court, D. Colorado

May 6, 2014

ESMERALDA CASTANEDA, et al., Plaintiffs,


RICHARD P. MATSCH, Senior District Judge.

In this collective action brought by current and former hourly employees working at the beef processing plant in Greeley, Colorado, now owned by defendant JBS USA, LLC., ("JBS or Employer"), the plaintiffs seek compensation for claimed violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. After the application of 29 U.S.C. § 203(o) on summary judgment on some of the claims, the plaintiffs and defendant agreed to separate trials on liability and remedy.

Extensive evidence was presented at a bench trial from February 28 to March 3, 2011, including videotapes of actual operations at the plant. On August 1, 2011, this court made its findings and conclusions in narrative form in its Memorandum Opinion and Order (166). In that Order the court identified issues in this paragraph:

The central questions in this case are when does the workday begin and end and does the meal period provide an adequate opportunity for the workers to eat a meal. It is clear that the workday is not accurately measured by the time on the production lines. It is also clear that walk times should be added to the plug times for donning and doffing in the CBA's that were the basis for this court's ruling on the applicability of § 203(o) on summary judgment. The plaintiffs' claims for compensation for walk times during the shift are not subject to section 3(o) and the measurement for each individual is not feasible. Accordingly, a reasonable amount must be determined....

Order, p. 12.

As to the meal period, the following finding was made:

The employer did not provide a full 30 minute meal break to its employees. The plug times for donning and doffing includes that required for the meal break. It does not recognize the fact that the time required to remove clothing and equipment and walk to the cafeteria and the time to return, fully equipped to the assigned positions on the production line substantially erodes the time available to eat lunch. An adequate meal break is an obligation that is necessary for the health and safety of the employees, an essential purpose of the FLSA. § 202. The employer has not provided a full 30 minute meal break and the minimal amounts of plug times for donning and doffing during the break do not satisfy the obligation imposed by the statute and the regulation.

After rejecting the plaintiffs' contention that the continuous workday should be measured by removal from and return to the lockers of the required tools and equipment, the Court found that plaintiffs have not been fully compensated for their work and said that the questions relevant to remedy may require a determination of the reasonableness of the plug times added on the basis of the 2007 measurements and the appropriate remedy for the failure to provide a bona fide 30-minute meal break must be determined. Because the latter issue would affect the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 ("Union") was permitted to intervene for the limited purpose of formulating any remedial order as to the meal break.

At the time of the Order this Court understood that a 30 minute meal break was required by law or regulation. That is not correct.

The source of the non-compensable 30 minute break from work on the fabrication production line is a provision in the collective bargaining agreement which has been the same since the first agreement entered into in September, 1994, during the first litigation concerning this plant, then owned by Monfort, Inc., Case No. 92-M-2456.

The thirty minute stoppage of the production line is also a requirement made by the USDA inspectors.

Accordingly, the previous finding as to a bona fide meal period must be re-considered in light of the fact that the regulation of the Department of Labor in 29 C.F.R. § 785.19(a) is only applicable if the employer is permitted to interrupt the continuous workday by providing a meal period. The regulation reads as follows:

Bona fide meal periods. Bona fide meal periods are not worktime. Bona fide meal periods do not include coffee breaks or time for snacks. These are rest periods. The employee must be completely relieved from duty for the purposes of eating regular meals. Ordinarily 30 minutes or more is long enough for a bona fide meal period. A shorter period may be long enough under special conditions. The employee is not relieved if he is required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating. For example, an office employee who is required to eat at his desk or a factory worker who is required to be at his machine is working while eating. (Citations omitted)

The parties submitted written closing arguments and the Union filed a brief. Both the Union and the plaintiffs contend that the videotapes, as interpreted by the plaintiffs' opinion witness, Dr. Robert G. Radwin, show that the time that fabrication line employees are fully relieved is so short that it does not qualify as a bona fide meal period. Accordingly, ...

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