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Supreme Court rules against Indiana steelworkers on pay

GARY, Ind. – The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against an attempt to win pay for the time it takes to put on and take off protective gear.

The lawsuit was filed by workers from U.S. Steel’s Gary Works, arguing their workday was extended by up to two hours because of the time it takes to get dressed with flame-retardant jackets and pants and other items and then travel from the locker room to their work stations at the sprawling mill along Lake Michigan.

The Supreme Court was unanimous Monday in ruling in favor of the company.

U.S. Steel said in a statement that the workers only needed a brief amount of time to put on and remove the protective gear.

“For many decades, U.S. Steel has appropriately and constructively addressed these matters in our collective bargaining process and this decision reaffirms the validity of that approach,” the company said.

One of the plaintiffs, retired steelworker Herbert Harris, of Gary, said he was disappointed with the ruling by the court, which heard arguments in the case last fall after a federal appeals court also sided with U.S. Steel.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Harris told The Times of Munster ( “Big money is big money. The system is the system. We were just hoping and praying for justice.”

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the court that the labor agreement between the company and the workers’ union says the employees don’t get paid for time spent changing clothes.

Scalia said most of the items count as clothing and while earplugs, glasses and respirators are not clothing, they take little time to put on.

Employees in other fields get paid for any time spent getting dressed and undressed at their workplace, but a 1938 federal law exempts time spent changing clothes if it is conceded in a collective bargaining agreement. The union that represents 4,500 workers at Gary Works has made that concession for more than six decades.

Chicago attorney Aaron Maduff, who represented the workers, said the contract provision was negotiated back when workers wore far less protective gear.

“It’s not like me putting on a suit and tie in the morning,” he said.