In November 2020, Walgreens paid a $4.5m settlement to resolve a class-action lawsuit alleging that it stole wages from thousands of its employees in California between 2010 and 2017. The lawsuit alleged that Walgreens “rounded down employees’ hours on their timecards, required employees to pass through security checks before and after their shift without compensating them for time worked, and failed to pay premium wages to employees who were denied legally required meal breaks”.
Walgreens’ settlement includes attorney’s fees and other penalties, but $2,830,000 went to Walgreens employees to compensate them for the wages that the company had stolen. And, because it is a settlement, that amount represents a small fraction of the total liability. According to the order approving the settlement, it represents “approximately 22% of the potential damages”.
So this is a story of a corporation that stole millions of dollars from its own employees. How much news coverage did it generate? There was a single 221-word story in Bloomberg Law, an industry publication. And that’s it. There has been no coverage in the New York Times, USA Today, CNN, or the dozens of other publications that covered the story of a man stealing a few hundred dollars of merchandise.
No one at Walgreens has had to take personal responsibility for stealing millions from its employees. Stefano Pessina, who served as Walgreens’ CEO during the majority of the alleged wage theft, saw his compensation rise from $7,133,155 in 2015 to $17,483,187 in 2020. In 2021, Pessina transitioned from CEO to executive chairman. Pessina’s 2021 compensation is not yet available, but the previous executive chairman made $8,797,713 last year. Needless to say, neither Pessina nor any Walgreens employee has had to spend any time in jail as a result of millions in wage theft.
Walgreens recorded $2.3bn in profits in fiscal year 2021. Walgreens is still a highly profitable business. Meanwhile, the median Walgreens employee makes just $33,396. When the company steals hundreds or thousands of dollars in wages from its employees, it has a real impact on workers who are struggling to make ends meet.
Numerous companies steal billions in wages from workers in the United States each year. It is a crime that is seldom prosecuted – or covered in the media.