On the importance of the serial comma (the Oxford comma)

Commas matter, full stop.

Here is an example.
The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

This comes from Maine law, which requires time-and-a-half pay for each hour worked after 40 hours. It, however, carved out exemptions for the above. Simple, right?

Three truck drivers sued a dairy company in 2014 for what they said was four years’ worth of overtime they had been denied. Mind you, overtime should be paid at 150%, not small beer.

What does the part after the last comma in the first sentence ‘packing for shipment or distribution of’ mean? Is it packing for (shipment or distribution), or does it mean the distribution of the three categories is exempted.
The court has now ruled that this indeed is unclear. The dairy company in Portland, Me., agreed to pay $5 million to the drivers. No small beer indeed.

In the meantime, the Maine legislature has addressed the issue and reformulated the provision:
"The canning; processing; preserving; freezing; drying; marketing; storing; packing for shipment; or distributing of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods."

All work on said products is overtime after 40 hours. Quite what one would expect, imho.

source: NYTimes, 9 Feb 2018

Comments are closed.