Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Walmart worker

Walmart employees picket outside of a Walmart store in Los Angeles, California on November 29, 2013. (Photo: Aurelio Barrera/Flickr/cc)

'Jaw-Dropping' Report Reveals Rampant Wage Theft Among Top US Corporations

"Wage theft goes far beyond sweatshops, fast-food outlets, and retailers. It is built into the business model of a substantial portion of corporate America."

Jessica Corbett

A "jaw-dropping" wage theft report out this week reveals that many top U.S. corporations—from Walmart to Bank of America to AT&T—"have fattened their profits by forcing employees to work off the clock or depriving them of required overtime pay," based on a review of labor lawsuits and enforcement actions.

"While wage theft is pervasive, it is also preventable."
—Adam Shah, Jobs With Justice Education Fund

Grand Theft Paycheck: The Large Corporations Shortchanging Their Workers' Wages (pdf), produced by Good Jobs First and the Jobs With Justice Education Fund, found that hundreds of firms have collectively paid billions of dollars in wage theft penalties since 2000.

The report identifies several wage theft practices such as off-the-clock work, job title misclassifications that unfairly exempt workers from overtime pay, and uncompensated clothing purchase requirements, as well as overtime, minimum wage, meal break, and tip violations.

Researchers uncovered more than 1,200 successful collective actions challenging large companies' bad behavior. Those cases cost top corporations a total of $8.8 billion. A review of actions by the U.S. Department of Labor and eight state regulatory agencies uncovered another 4,220 cases against major corporations, which produced $9.2 billion in penalites.

"Our findings make it clear that wage theft goes far beyond sweatshops, fast-food outlets, and retailers. It is built into the business model of a substantial portion of corporate America," said Good Jobs First research director Philip Mattera, the report's lead author.

The employers who paid the most penalties for wage theft violations ranged from retailers and banks to insurance and telecommunications companies, the report highlights:

Among the dozen most penalized corporations, Walmart, with $1.4 billion in total settlements and fines, is the only retailer. Second is FedEx with $502 million. Half of the top dozen are banks and insurance companies, including Bank of America ($381 million); Wells Fargo ($205 million); JPMorgan Chase ($160 million); and State Farm Insurance ($140 million). The top 25 also include prominent companies in sectors not typically associated with wage theft, including telecommunications (AT&T); information technology (Microsoft and Oracle); pharmaceuticals (Novartis); and investment services (Morgan Stanley and UBS).

Kilian Colin, who worked for Wells Fargo from 2013 to 2016, said that "aggressive sales quotas based on exploiting vulnerable customers forced me into 12-hour shifts with no breaks and no food allowed—and threats to withhold my paycheck if I didn't sign off on working extra hours for free."

The report suggests such experiences are common among those who work for major American companies. Demos Action researcher Tamara Draut, who was not involved in the study, said the report's documentation of stolen wages provides "one more reason for unions."

Jobs With Justice Education Fund senior policy analyst Adam Shah, who contributed to the report, said that in light of the findings, there's also a need for crafting stronger policies to protect workers, and that recent developments in government have renewed energy to address the issue of wage theft.

"We see increased urgency for policymakers to step up with solutions," Shah noted, "because the U.S. Supreme Court recently made it harder to bring collective action lawsuits to stop wage theft and the Trump Administration may weaken federal enforcement."

Pointing to California's enhanced labor protections as a potential blueprint, Shah concluded, "While wage theft is pervasive, it is also preventable."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'A Slap in the Face to Voters': Kansas Supreme Court Upholds GOP Map

"This case is only one skirmish in the wholesale assault on democracy in Kansas and around the country," said the head of the state's ACLU.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Major Milestone' as Rhode Island Expands Voting Rights

A newly passed measure was praised as "a huge step forward in improving and modernizing voting in the Ocean State."

Andrea Germanos ·


PA Primary Is Too Close to Call, But Trump Says 'Dr. Oz Should Declare Victory' Anyway

"This is why we keep saying Trump is a clear and present danger to democracy."

Kenny Stancil ·


'Entirely Reckless': Critics Blast EU Plan to Boost Gas Infrastructure

"Deepening its own dependence on volatile fossil fuels" in response to Russia's attack on Ukraine, said one campaigner, "is the last thing Europe should be doing."

Jessica Corbett ·


Sanders Applauds Denton, Texas for Passing 100th Local Resolution Backing Medicare for All

"The way we will pass Medicare for All," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, "is by continuing to build a strong grassroots movement that is prepared to take on the big money interests."

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo