Kim Bobo believes that employers in the United States are stealing from their workers. Not just nickels and dimes and not just in isolated incidents. She claims that the theft is rampant — that it has become a “national crisis at this moment in our nation” to the tune of $19 billion per year in unpaid overtime alone.
Bobo is the founder and executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, an organization that appeals to the shared convictions of all religions in protecting the rights of the everyday worker, especially low-wage workers.
Bobo alleges that in meat processing plants, retail businesses, restaurants, garment assembly plants, the construction industry, and several other occupational settings, “workers are having their legal wages stolen by unscrupulous employers trying to gain an advantage over their law abiding competitors.”
In 1996, Bobo established the national Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) organization, having spent many years previously advocating for worker justice. Since its founding, IWJ has grown into a network of more than 50 religious labor groups and 20 worker centers. In 2007, the organization’s worker centers scattered throughout the country recovered $1,249,052 in wages for workers.
The organization also funds and operates numerous programs, including one that pairs seminary and rabbinical students with labor unions. “Too often the religious community and the labor communities have worked in isolation from one another,” the IWJ website states.
Raising awareness of wage theft is a formidable task, but it can be tackled effectively with the power of faith-based conscience. Bringing attention to the problem of unethical corporate practices is like shining a spotlight in a dark basement where creepy things lurk.
Bobo’s new book, Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Americans Are Not Getting Paid – And What We Can Do About It, is another way that the activist is shining light on the “crime wave no one talks about.” According to Bobo, between two and three million people are paid less than minimum wage for their work every year. Misclassifying employees as independent contractors is also a trick many companies use to avoid payroll taxes and overtime pay.
IWJ’s website provides a wealth of information and resources pertaining to workers’ rights and the issue of wage theft, including an expanded definition of the term and answers to many questions about the problem. Some interesting facts surrounding wage theft, borrowed from IWJ’s website, are listed below.
- Wage theft covers a variety of infractions that occur when workers do not receive their legally or contractually promised wages.
- Wage theft consists of employer violations of the Davis-Bacon Act, Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Housing and Urban Development Act Section 3.
- Wage theft is endemic across the labor market, and especially in the low wage labor market.
- Agriculture, poultry processing, janitorial services, restaurant work, garment manufacturing, long term care, home health care and retail are the industries with the most reported cases of wage theft.
- The number of Department of Labor (DOL) wage and hour investigators dropped by 14 percent between 1975 and 2004.
- The number of compliance actions declined 36 percent in that time.
- The workforce covered by the FLSA grew 55 percent in that time.