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UPDATE 1-U.S. Steel wins Supreme Court labor fight

WASHINGTON, Jan 27 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that employees at a U.S. Steel Corp plant do not have to be paid for the time they spend "donning and doffing" safety gear before and after their shifts.

The nine justices were unanimous in the ruling.

Federal labor law excludes "changing clothes" from the time for which unionized employees must be paid, unless they have negotiated otherwise.

Writing on behalf of the court, Justice Antonin Scalia said the time spent putting on safety gear was not subject to compensation because it was not sufficiently different from "changing clothes."

He mentioned such items as pants, hardhats and leggings as "commonly regarded as articles of dress."

Scalia conceded that safety glasses, ear plugs and respirators, which the workers also wear, are not generally viewed as clothes, but he said a ruling separating different types of items would create a problem for judges handling such cases.

It is unlikely that Congress intended to "convert federal judges into time-study professionals," Scalia wrote.

Roughly 800 current and former workers at U.S. Steel's Gary, Indiana, plant said flame-retardant jackets and pants, work gloves, wristlets, hard hats and other items they have to wear are "personal protective equipment," not clothing.

U.S. Steel disagreed, saying any wearable item is clothing. As a result, it said it should not have to pay unionized employees for "donning and doffing."

The case is Sandifer v. United States Steel Corporation, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-417.