United Coal Company, Wellmore Coal Company and Wellmore Energy Company have failed to pay miners for time spent donning protective gear and traveling underground, according to a proposed class and collective action.
The 17-page case claims the defendants, who operate coal mines along the Kentucky/Virginia border, have violated state and federal labor laws by failing to pay employees for every hour worked and “arbitrarily deducting” 30 minutes from their hours each day to purportedly account for travel time. Per the suit, the miners remain under the defendants’ control from the time they begin putting on protective clothing and gear until they “last perform work at the conclusion of the work day,” and thus should have been compensated for donning activities and time spent on transport vehicles within the mines.
The lawsuit relays that miners were required to put on certain clothing and equipment, including reflective apparel, steel-toed boots, hard hats/helmets and “spotter” devices used to detect gas levels in the air, to ensure their safety and the safety of others. The suit alleges, however, that the workers were permitted to clock in for their shifts only after spending time donning their gear. Indeed, the defendants’ timekeeping system was programmed to allow miners to clock in by waving their helmets, which contained a chip, in front of the timekeeping device, the case says. The workers, therefore, were not able to clock in for their shifts until after they had retrieved their helmets and performed off-the-clock work, the lawsuit contends.
The suit goes on to allege that United Coal and Wellmore automatically deducted from miners’ hours 30 minutes per day to supposedly account for travel time within the mines. According to the case, however, this policy is illegal given the workers had already begun their first work activity, i.e., donning their protective gear, prior to riding the underground transport. The lawsuit argues that the employees’ underground travel time was compensable under the continuous work day doctrine, which requires that workers be paid from the time they begin their first work activity until the conclusion of their work day, excluding a bona fide meal break.
The suit adds that even if the defendants argued that the 30-minute deduction was intended to account for a meal break, miners did not typically take meal breaks but would instead work continuously throughout their shifts. Moreover, even if the employees did take time to eat, it was “only when and where possible between duties,” and necessarily occurred underground while the workers were still under the defendants’ control, the lawsuit contends.
According to the suit, given miners typically worked more than 40 hours per week, much of the wages they are allegedly owed for donning gear and travel time should have been paid at their time-and-a-half overtime rates.
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