Home > #OWS, finance, rant > Payroll cards: “It costs too much to get my money” (#OWS)

Payroll cards: “It costs too much to get my money” (#OWS)

July 1, 2013

If this article from yesterday’s New York Times doesn’t make you want to join Occupy, then nothing will.

It’s about how, if you work at a truly crappy job like Walmart or McDonalds, they’ll pay you with a pre-paid card that charges you for absolutely everything, including checking your balance or taking your money, and will even charge you for not using the card. Because we aren’t nickeling and diming these people enough.

The companies doing this stuff say they’re “making things convenient for the workers,” but of course they’re really paying off the employers, sometimes explicitly:

In the case of the New York City Housing Authority, it stands to receive a dollar for every employee it signs up to Citibank’s payroll cards, according to a contract reviewed by The New York Times.

Thanks for the convenience, payroll card banks!

One thing that makes me extra crazy about this article is how McDonalds uses its franchise system to keep its hands clean:

For Natalie Gunshannon, 27, another McDonald’s worker, the owners of the franchise that she worked for in Dallas, Pa., she says, refused to deposit her pay directly into her checking account at a local credit union, which lets its customers use its A.T.M.’s free. Instead, Ms. Gunshannon said, she was forced to use a payroll card issued by JPMorgan Chase. She has since quit her job at the drive-through window and is suing the franchise owners.

“I know I deserve to get fairly paid for my work,” she said.

The franchise owners, Albert and Carol Mueller, said in a statement that they comply with all employment, pay and work laws, and try to provide a positive experience for employees. McDonald’s itself, noting that it is not named in the suit, says it lets franchisees determine employment and pay policies.

I actually heard about this newish scheme against the poor when I attended the CFPB Town Hall more than a year ago and wrote about it here. Actually that’s where I heard people complain about Walmart doing this but also court-appointed child support as well.

Just to be clear, these fees are illegal in the context of credit cards, but financial regulation has not touched payroll cards yet. Yet another way that the poor are financialized, which is to say they’re physically and psychologically separated from their money. Get on this, CFPB!

Update: an excellent article about this issue was written by Sarah Jaffe a couple of weeks ago (hat tip Suresh Naidu). It ends with an awesome quote by Stephen Lerner: “No scam is too small or too big for the wizards of finance.”

Categories: #OWS, finance, rant
  1. July 1, 2013 at 9:35 am

    In today’s new “normal” the money does not belong to the workers it belongs to the rentiers. The workers should be happy that they’re even allowed to sniff their money let along have access to any to live. If they keep complaining they will just have to be paid in scraps from the kitchen. Oh and the beatings won’t stop until moral improves.


  2. July 1, 2013 at 10:19 am

    The disgusting reality of BS like this neither makes me want to join Occupy or whine to my government (“Get on this, CFPB!” you say), especially as with the latter the very companies you rightly defile are the ones who wrote the “regulations” of the CFPB.

    It’s a treat to watch angst slowly but surely turn itself toward genuine solutions. I don’t have all the answers either, but surely those such as us who care are going to figure it out. Thanks for your efforts toward that!


  3. Abe Kohen
    July 1, 2013 at 11:46 am

    You are absolutely right.

    Here’s a place to start:


  4. July 1, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    I was screwed by this garbage over ten years ago, working at a gas station for the summer while I was an undergraduate. This is the first time I’ve ever seen it mentioned in a major news source.


  5. An igyt
    July 1, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    This is a consequence of the minimum wage, and related laws that restrict the contracts between workers and employers. When market conditions are such that an employer could lower wages without sacrificing worker quality, but the law prohibits literal wage, creative remedies are found.

    The answer is to pursue our goal of assuring a minimum income through means such as negative income taxes that don’t restrict contract.

    Sadly, I think Occupy is very much in the tradition of the old Lefts that brought us these laws in the first place.


  6. Bill
    July 25, 2013 at 4:32 am

    What a nice and truthful quote! You are completely right. Employers are, so to say, greedy to money (though everyone is) and try to make everything to earn more on the work of others. They change minimum wages, make us work more. But what should they do? We all see our economic system when everyone is involved in debt. Some time before we said “what for is a credit card?” but now only the word “debt” make us work days and nights to repay all money. We cannot afford even a good rest, and try to save money during vacations and isn’t it an absurd? I do not even know what else to say.


  1. July 2, 2013 at 10:18 am
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