George Graham

Low-Wage Workers Shafted while we Celebrate

On this July 4, in this America freed from British tyranny so many years ago, new tyrants threaten the freedoms for which the colonists fought and died. How can Americans celebrate their rights with fireworks and patriotic speeches while tyranny stalks the country in new and ever more threatening forms?

How dare we suggest that this is a nation “under God” when injustice and persecution prevail?

I am not talking about the villainy of a Supreme Court that has removed the federal government’s protection from minority voters and the poor. I am not talking about the rapacious financiers who plunder the nation, destroy the global economy and get tax bailouts in return. I am not ranting against the politicians who take from the poor to give to the rich. I am not even railing against the avalanche of anti-woman legislation that Republican controlled states are churning out.

Not today. What has me going this morning is a less momentous – but equally irritating – instance of gross exploitation.

Why am I so mad? Why should I care? It does not affect me. Not personally, anyway.

I don’t work for Walmart, or Walgreen’s or McDonald’s or Taco Bell, or any of the big corporations that have found a new way to save millions by chiseling their employees.

But I am filled with rage by the victimization of the vulnerable and the unchecked avarice of the powerful.

I could hardly believe my ears when MSNBC’s Chris Hayes explained the scam on his show last night.

And when I told Sandra what Chris said, she insisted I must have misheard. How could such a thing be?

But I looked it up on the web this morning, and it’s true: nearly two dozen companies -mostly retail and restaurant enterprises – are being investigated for paying employees with ATM cards that impose fees when used. A former McDonald’s employee is suing the fast food giant over the practice.

The employers save millions in reduced payroll costs, while the banks issuing the cards enjoy a new “revenue stream.”

According to an article in Bloomberg Business Week:

Last year $34 billion was loaded onto 4.6 million payroll cards, according to Aite Group, from institutions who pitched the programs as cheaper for employers than paychecks and traditional payroll systems. It’s hard to divine how much of that $34 billion balance cycles back to banks in fee revenue, but it’s safe to say that Wall Street is making tens of millions of dollars on the cards (and indirectly from folks earning minimum wage at fast-food joints).

Imagine that you work for one of these Simon Legree outfits, and make a few dollars an hour, and they give you a debit card instead of a paycheck. And when you swipe the card, you get hit with fees!

Is that adding insult to injury or what?

It wasn’t until the New York Times exposed the abuse that the authorities decided to check it out. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched an inquiry into the practice. He said he was “concerned” that the practice might “unduly reduce employees’ take-home pay.”

Concerned? That’s all you are, Mr. ?Schneiderman?

I would be laughing if I weren’t frothing at the mouth with fury.


Click for the Bloomberg Business Week article.

Click here for The New York Times expose.

Click for more on the employee-card scandal.

Click for more on the troubling rise of prepaid cards.


About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for