Workers wage lawsuit against Creekstone Farms

Workers at a Kansas slaughterhouse seek unpaid wages and overtime from Creekstone Farms Premium Beef in a federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed in April in U.S. District Court named employees Paz Sanchez and Elvis Posadas as the representative plaintiffs and seeks to include anyone who worked at the facility in the past three years. It claims the company hasn't been paying employees for all of the time they spend working.

Workers are seeking an unspecified amount for uncompensated services and time, as well as their legal costs.

The lawsuit claims Creekstone Farms has a practice of paying hourly meat processing employees based on a principle of so-called gang time. It contends workers are typically paid only for the time that their assigned production lines are running, along with 10 minutes a day to put on their protective clothing. The suit also contends the company failed to pay for overtime.

"The failure of an employer of food processing employees to pay the employees for all their compensable time is a common occurrence," said Mark Kistler, the Overland Park attorney representing the workers. "It seems the employers have an attitude of `catch me if you can.'"

Sanchez, a 42-year-old single mother of three children, worked as a meat processor as at the Arkansas City facility from May 2003 until last month. She told The Associated Press during a phone interview that she typically was not paid for two to two-and-a-half hours of work each week.

"I felt very badly and would make a claim at the office," she said in Spanish. "They told me, if I don't want to work like this, here is the door so you can leave."

She said she quit her job last month because of taunting from supervisors after the father of one of her daughters, a co-worker at the plant, was injured on the job and filed a claim against the company. Sanchez said she was humiliated in front of her co-workers. She said the harassment affected her so much it prompted her to file the wage lawsuit.

"Perhaps if they had left me to work in peace -- even if they didn't pay me for the hours -- I would have food for my children and would be able to help pay for my children's school," she said. "But they behaved this way with me."

Seeking Class Action

In November the workers at a Kansas slaughterhouse seeking unpaid wages and overtime are asking a judge to give their federal labor lawsuit class action status to cover about 700 hourly employees.

Documents filed Wednesday in the lawsuit against Creekstone Farms Premium Beef contend more than 40 current and former employees have sought to join the lawsuit.

The workers want U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren to conditionally certify a class composed of all hourly production employees for the past three years. They are also seeking an order requiring Creekstone to provide them with contact information for all class members and post notices at its Arkansas City plant.

The company contends it has paid workers for all time worked and for all overtime.