It is estimated that some employers are robbing their workers of more than $50 billion each year. That is more than triple the $14 billion taken from the victims of all robberies, burglaries, larcenies, and car thefts in 2012. This employer malfeasance is not new, and it is growing. The number of wage theft cases by high profile employers filed in federal court in 2014 increased from 5,000 in 2008 to nearly 8,000.
The 2014 lawsuit filed against the restaurant chain Chipotle by employees in Colorado and Minnesota for "wage theft" opened up a Pandora's Box revealing several companies that have come under scrutiny for preying on low wage employees.
Chipotle employees claim the establishments that employed them had mechanisms in place designed to aid and abet employment off the clock such as devices that automatically punched them out even as they continued to perform job related tasks.
Chipotle appears to be in a den of thieves and cheapskates.
Papa Johns Pizza has been sued by the New York Attorney General for allegedly underpaying some 400-delivery drivers as little as $5.00 an hour. The suit also alleges the Pizza chain shaved worked hours out of pay calculations, and forced employees to buy job related equipment with personal funds.
The lawsuits are the crust of many disturbing accusations of unlawful pay practices in the fast food industry - an industry already under the bus for paying poorly. The average hourly full-time worker makes less than $19,000 a year — it is appalling when investigations find workers being denied lawfully earned meager earnings.
As the cost of living continues to rise, including housing, food, and transportation, millions of low-wage workers already have to utilize taxpayer-funded assistance programs to get by, including Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Some of these same corporations, including fast-food leader McDonald’s, have been accused of encouraging workers to sign up for SNAP, allowing them to keep wages low and profits up (the firm had net earnings of $1.52 billion in the second quarter of 2013).
It's unlawful that supposedly legitimate companies are subjecting already financially disenfranchised individuals to near servitude compensation practices. Moreover, the racial and economic demographics that are enduring these blatant violations of the Federal Labor Standards Act are not by happenstance. Look at their employee pool of minorities and make ends meet employees. Then consider nowhere are there cries of underpayment or meager compensation from the corporate bigwigs of the companies called on the carpet for these nefarious practices against lower tiered employees. They target the already underpaid and financially strapped because they know most of these folks cannot afford the financial backlash of legal action. Then too in a time when jobs are hard to come by companies know that many of these people are reluctant to rock a boat that could tip them into the waters of unemployment. Therefore, these companies literally rob with impunity until they get entangled with an employee with nothing to lose by calling them out – filing a complaint with the EEOC or lawyering up.
There is a lesson here.
When you take too much from a person, you empower them by leaving them nothing to lose by challenging you.
That’s a powerful lesson that can be applied to a broad spectrum of contexts. Poor customer service, inadequate product and service rendering are direct results of companies that have underpaid and devalued employees to the point they have nothing to lose by underperforming. In addition, the employees cannot be blamed. Who wants to be pimped? Who wants to paid less than they are worth? Who wants to be robbed? The fat cat CEO’s of these companies need to seriously entertain these questions and provide some solutions to the problems they inadvertently endorse with their silence.
Court action is a start but it is not enough. Nobody is going to jail behind this. If the defendants are successful in proving their cases, the companies will grease the wheels of justice by satisfying the thirst of any charges by paying a fine. Then it is back to business as usual.
Consumers can make a difference.
Consumers are going to have to show their displeasure by closing their wallets to any corporation that insist upon robbing underpaying and grossly mistreating their employees. By continuing to patronize businesses that engage in unscrupulous practices we are endorsing the behavior – they pay no penalty. Google boycott and you’ll get the general idea of how much power consumers wield when they choose to make a difference.
In the meantime pay attention to the companies, you patronize and evaluate how you are treated. If its substandard treatment, service or products you are receiving it may not be bad employees so much as it is bad employers. Employers that may be robbing the employee they're trusting not to rob you of respect, consideration, and the best experience, service, and product your dollar deserves. Gut check - employees reflect the leadership of the company they work for.