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An attorney for 16 Butte-Silver Bow Water Division employees who want hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay for mandatory unpaid lunch breaks says he will appeal a state agency’s ruling against them.

“The decision by the hearing officer is completely wrong on the facts,” Wade Dahood, an Anaconda attorney helping represent the workers, said Wednesday.

As The Montana Standard first reported Tuesday, the Montana Department of Labor and Industry ruled against the workers in a decision the county got this week.

Chad Vanisko, a hearing officer for the agency, said the workers could go anywhere or do anything they wanted on their lunch breaks and were not owed pay for that idle time.

When they were called out during a lunch break, he said, that time was reflected on their time cards and they were paid for it.

The workers claimed that because they were forced to take a half hour lunch unpaid, they lost that time and their work day was extended a half hour. Because of that, they wanted an hour of back pay for each day they did that.

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Vanisko rejected that and also said claims that former Public Works Director Dave Schultz wrongfully changed the workday policy without any input from employees or their union was not an hour-and-wage issue but one involving unfair labor practices.

Those are considered by a different division in the state Department of Labor and sometimes end up in Montana District Court. Decisions made by administrative judges in the labor department can be appealed to state District Court.

A message was left at the Dahood law office seeking comment Tuesday but was not returned. But Wade Dahood called the Standard on Wednesday and said the workers will appeal the ruling.

He said the hearing officer “misconstrued some of the testimony and didn’t pay attention to the actual facts of the case that show that they extended the work period a half hour without compensation.”

“We intend to appeal that to District Court and are very confident that decision is going to be reversed,” he said.

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