MILWAUKEE – Workers at a Wisconsin meat processing plant must be paid for time spent putting on and taking off protective clothing, an appeals court ruled Thursday.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by six workers at the Tyson Prepared Foods Inc. plant in Jefferson. The lawsuit is one of several filed nationwide by meat and poultry workers, who say they spend significant time putting on and taking off gear that can include hair nets, hard hats, shoe covers, safety glasses and frocks, which are like coats with snaps in front.

The Jefferson County Circuit Court had said Tyson did not have to pay workers for that time because putting on and taking off the gear wasn’t essential to their duties. The 4th District Court of Appeals disagreed, saying it counted as activities that were an integral part of their jobs. It sent the case back to the circuit court to determine how much the workers should be paid.

“It’s a big victory for these Tyson workers,” said Douglas Phebus, the attorney representing the workers. He has asked for class-action status, so the decision will affect all plant workers.