12 Million People Robbed Each Year

Pam Shearman |

You may have heard the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” Stealing is more than losing money or a possession. I remember when our home was broken into, and we were robbed. We replaced the material things, and we fixed the broken door and window. But our sense of security was difficult to replace. It was a long time before we could sleep well without feeling threatened and vulnerable.

We spend almost as much time at work as we do at home, so being robbed at work can leave us feeling vulnerable, day after day. According to the Illinois Department of Labor, a large number of wage theft claims are filed by restaurant workers. A recent survey of fast-food workers reported nine of ten workers say they have experienced wage theft. The operational commandment in the food service industry seems to be “Thou SHALT steal.”

Recently, we heard from a young woman whose first job was with a national fast food chain. Her first day went very well, and both she and the manager were pleased with her job performance. After she clocked out at the end of the shift she said goodbye to her manager. “Where are you going?” he asked. Then he explained that she needed to stay and work off the clock. That was her first and last day at that job. She knew that standing up for her employment rights was the strongest course of action.

This young woman and millions like her should not have to take a stand alone.

The National Restaurant Association ("the Other NRA") estimates that 13.5 million people work in restaurants in the U.S. This adds up to more than 12 million people robbed at work (compared to only 1.5 million home robberies each year). The NRA has no policy stand on wage theft. Here is a sampling of the NRA’s policy positions for workers:

  • The NRA is opposed to the Affordable Care Act even though 90% of restaurants have fewer than 50 employees and do not have to offer healthcare insurance to employees.
  • The NRA is opposed to mandatory paid sick and family leave to take care of sick loved ones claiming that “arbitrary mandatory provisions that require new benefits without giving flexibility to businesses will come at the expense of other benefits.”
  • The NRA is opposed to an increase in the minimum wage stating, “dramatic, mandatory wage increases…would place yet another financial burden on business owners”. The minimum wage for tipped workers in Illinois is only $4.95/hour! (Find out the tipped-minimum wage in your state.)

The NRA expects that 1.3 million restaurant jobs will be added over the next decade – that’s a million more workers with no private healthcare insurance, insufficient paid sick time for themselves and their families, and rock bottom hourly pay. And that’s a million more workers who have their wages stolen by their employers.

Can they count on you to fight theft with them? Learn more about IWJ Issues and see all the opportunities to get involved. Together we can make “Thou Shalt NOT Steal” the standard for everyone!


Pam is a seminarian joining Interfaith Worker Justice this summer for clinical pastoral education, she will be reflecting each week on her experiences. Cartoon by Khalil Bendib