A seemingly simple phrase can sometimes become stubbornly opaque when the lawyers at the Supreme Court get to it, and that was the case Monday when the justices examined what “changing clothes” means .

It is part of a case brought by Clifton Sandifer and 800 current and former workers at the U.S. Steel plant in Gary, Ind. They claim federal law requires them to be compensated for the time they spend putting on protective gear before reporting to their work stations.

U.S. Steel said the workers need not be paid because of an exception in the law that allows employers and unions to agree not to pay for “any time spent in changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday.” Such an agreement is in place in Gary.

While washing is not part of the dispute, what constitutes “clothes” is at the heart of the matter.

Continue reading →