A Chicago federal judge has crumbled a suit by a Chicago cookie company, which wanted to force its employees to take 24 hours off every seven days in lieu of working voluntary overtime, saying state law requires companies give their workers the option to take one day off each week, but does not force workers to take a day off, if their contract otherwise allows them to work seven consecutive days or more, and they want the overtime.
The ruling was rolled out July 27 by U.S. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, favoring the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District No. 8, in its litigation against Mondelez Global.
Mondelez, which makes such famous brand products as Oreo and Chips Ahoy cookies and Ritz crackers, among many others, operates a bakery at 7300 S. Kedzie Avenue on Chicago’s southwest side. The company has dual headquarters in suburban Deerfield and in East Hanover, N.J. The Chicago facility has employed about 1,200 workers, of whom 85 have been represented by the IAMAW. The union is based in suburban Burr Ridge.
In March 2015, Mondelez told union members they would no longer be allowed to work seven consecutive days without 24 hours of rest. The company said state labor law required such periods of R&R. The union replied the labor contract permitted workers to voluntarily put in seven days in a row, to allow them the chance to earn overtime pay.
Mondelez refused to budge and grievances were filed, leading an arbitrator to rule in November the rest periods were not to be imposed. The arbitrator reasoned that because Mondelez had previously let union members work seven straight days, a binding past practice had taken hold.
Mondelez went to court Feb. 1 to overturn the arbitrator's decision, arguing state law controlled the issue; the union contended the Federal Arbitration Act demanded the arbitrator's decision be enforced.
The answer was clear to Judge Der-Yeghiayan, who said "nothing" in the law "prohibits an employee from voluntarily choosing to forego the 24-hour period of rest."
Der-Yeghiayan went on to say the arbitrator properly determined there was "no well defined and dominant public policy that would supersede the collective bargaining agreement and the past practice relating to the assignment of work and overtime."
The judge pointed out the law in question tells employers to allow, not to order, workers to take the rest time. In this regard, Der-Yeghiayan noted the Illinois Department of Labor issued an advisory opinion in 2013, which said employees could voluntarily work that seventh day, waiving their right to the 24 hours of relaxation. In fact, the arbitrator told Mondelez its workers could fill out a waiver form, to head off any claims the company was violating the law, according to Der-Yeghiayan.
Apart from determining Mondelez was in the wrong about the day-of-rest law, Der-Yeghiayan made an observation about the company's attitude toward arbitration.
"The economic benefits that stem from the efficiency of arbitration will be lost if a party is able to sit on its rights and wait and see to raise arguments in subsequent litigation," the judge noted.
Mondelez is represented by the Chicago firm of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart.
The union was represented by the Chicago firm of Carmell, Charone, Widmer, Moss & Barr.