Mugged by the Boss

Wage Theft in America
Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid—and What We Can Do About It
Kim Bobo
The New Press, $17.95, 336 pp.

As a child growing up in Massapequa—the Long Island suburb where Jerry Seinfeld and Alec Baldwin were raised—I always viewed my community as patriotic and law-abiding. Ron Kovic, the crippled Vietnam veteran who wrote Born on the Fourth of July, came from Massapequa. So did Peggy Noonan, the Reagan speechwriter. The most popular restaurant in town was a burger joint called “All-American.”

So I was rather startled to learn last November about some shameful, un-American goings-on in the community next door. According to the New York State Labor Department, a housecleaning company in neighboring Amityville often had its 170 employees work sixty hours a week, but they sometimes took home less than $100.

The company took all sorts of outlandish and outrageous deductions from the workers’ paychecks. If a customer was not satisfied with the service provided, deductions were taken from the cleaner’s pay. When the company did a promotional campaign offering discounted services, the discounts were often taken out of workers’ paychecks. If an employee needed assistance on a difficult project, like cleaning carpets or air ducts, the pay for the additional worker was deducted from the paycheck of the employee who requested assistance. If a customer gave an employee a check that bounced, the company deducted money from the employee’s paycheck to make up for the lost revenues. In these ways, the New York...

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About the Author

Steven Greenhouse, a former labor reporter for the New York Times, is author of The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker (Knopf).