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Indiana steel workers want wages for putting on gear

A lawyer representing 800 Indiana steel workers brought before the U.S. Supreme Court the issue of whether workers should receive compensation for putting on and taking off protective gear. Is changing into protective gear really just changing clothes, or is it something compensable? The U.S. Steel Corporation does not pay workers for changing into the requisite clothing to perform their job duties.

Many steel workers feel they are getting paid less than owed because of the time it takes to put on and shed work gloves, hoods, jackets, flame retardant pants, leggings, Kevlar sleeves, steel-pointed boots, hard hats and more. The workers argue that protective gear is something outside the standard definition of clothing and so they should get paid for putting it on. U.S. Steel takes the position that putting on protective gear is merely changing clothes, and as a result, workers should not receive compensation.

The Obama Administration sided with the U.S. Steel Corporation, but took a nuanced approach to the issue. The administration argued that most gear is just clothing, but that some protective gear is so cumbersome as to fall outside the traditional clothing category. While the steel workers' garb would not qualify, the administration speculated that the substantial armor donned by meat packers might.

U.S. Steel, the steel workers, and the Obama Administration each provided the Supreme Court with a definition of clothing to consider. The Court's ruling is expected to be handed down in a few months' time.

State and federal governments have laws in place to protect workers against unfair wages. However, these laws sometimes require clarification as evidenced by issue presented by steel workers to the Supreme Court. When a person believes he or she is being treated unfairly at work, an employment law attorney could provide information, guidance and even help the worker seek redress from his or her employer.

Source: USA Today, "Robed justices debate the meaning of 'changing clothes'", Richard Wolf, November 04, 2013

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