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Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2010-2 - page 2 / 5





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15, 2009) (juxtaposing defendant’s reliance on 1986 dictionary for one definition of “clothes” under § 203(o), against plaintiffs’ reliance on 1957 dictionary for opposite view). The Administrator shares these concerns about reliance on dictionary definitions of the term “clothes.” 1

Dictionary definitions offer little useful guidance here. Such definitions are, by design, a collection of a word’s various meanings depending on the context in which it is used. With regard to § 203(o), the coupling of the term “clothes” with the verb “changing,” the phrase “at the beginning or end of each workday,” and the statute’s legislative history provide a specific context within which to define the term “clothes.” 2

The legislative history surrounding § 203(o) is sparse but instructive. In explaining his reasons for introducing the amendment, Rep. Christian A. Herter posited a discrete example of discord that he intended the amendment to resolve; namely, the variance in baking industry collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) as to what constituted a work day. While debating § 203(o) on the House floor, Rep. Herter stated: “Let me be specific. In the bakery industry, for instance, . . . there are [CBAs] . . . . In some of those [CBAs], the time taken to change clothes and to take off clothes at the end of the day is considered a part of the working day. In other [CBAs] it is not so considered. But, in either case the matter has been carefully threshed out between the employer and the employee and apparently both are completely satisfied with respect to their bargaining agreements.” 95 Cong. Rec. H11210 (Aug. 10, 1949) (statement of Rep. Herter) (emphasis added).

Congress inserted the phrase “changing clothes” to limit the bill’s original breadth. The original House bill permitted an employer and employee to “bargain away” any activity performed by an employee provided the activity was contained in the express terms, or was a custom or practice of, a collective bargaining agreement. See S. Rep. No. 640 (1949), reprinted in 1949 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2241, 2255. The corresponding Senate version (S. Bill 653) was not debated. When it was reported out of the Conference Committee, the provision did not retain its expansive application to all activity performed under a CBA. Instead, the Conference Committee narrowed the scope of § 203(o) by “limit[ing] this exclusion to time spent by the employee in changing clothes and cleaning [the employee’s] person at the beginning or at the end of the workday.” 95 Cong. Rec. 8, 14929 (Oct. 17, 1949) (emphasis added). The “clothes” that Congress had in mind in 1949 when it narrowed the scope of § 203(o)—those “clothes” that workers in the bakery industry changed into and “took off” in the 1940s—hardly resemble the modern-day protective equipment commonly donned and doffed by workers in today’s meat packing

1 The Administrator retains the view expressed in the 1997 and 2002 opinion letters that the term “washing” in section 3(o) refers only to washing one’s person. The Conference Report on § 203(o) limit[ed] this exclusion to time spent by the employee in changing clothes and cleaning his person at the beginning or at the end of each workday.” S. Rep. No. 81-640, at 2255 (1949) (Conf. Rep.), reprinted in 1949 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2241, 2243 (emphasis added). See Johnson v. Koch Foods, Inc., 2009 WL 3817447, at *9-10 (E.D. Tenn. Sep. 25, 2009); Burks v. Equity Group-Eufala Division, LLC, 571 F. Supp. 2d 1235, 1243-44 (M.D. Ala. 2008); Saunders v. John Morrell & Co., 1991 WL 529542, at *4 (N.D. Iowa Dec. 24, 1991); contra Sepulveda v. Allen Family Foods, Inc., No. 08-2256 (4th Cir. Dec. 29, 2009).

2 Legislative history is often instructive in understanding the meaning Congress intended to give specific statutory language. When construing labor legislation, the Supreme Court has noted that “its proper construction frequently requires consideration of its working against the background of its legislative history and in light of the general objectives Congress sought to achieve.” Wirtz v. Bottle Blowers Ass’n, 389 U.S. 463, 468 (1968).


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