The practice of paying hourly and wage workers using prepaid cards is growing. The New York Times reported yesterday that the practice, which had originally started small and was enduring staunch backlash, has been taken up by companies like Wal-Mart, Taco Bell, and Walgreen. These cards do little to help the workers paid through them access their wages more easily.
Instead, these cards allow the banks and card providers to excise additional money from workers. Often, according to The Times, workers that are earning minimum or near-minimum wages are, after the fees are paid by the workers to access their money, netting less than minimum wage, under the guise of convenience and other benefits to the employee.
On the face of the issue, the companies claim that the cards offer benefits to its employees. Underneath it all however, the companies that pay their employees through the cards often receive benefits, sometimes direct monetary compensation, for getting its employees to receive their pay through the cards.
Chuck Harris, president of NetSpend, said to The Times, “We built a product that an employer can fairly represent to their employees as having real benefits to them.”
It seems that these employers have found a way to take a slice of the employee’s pay back for themselves with this sleight of hand trick. Allowing banks and card companies to charge fees and requiring the employees to pay fees to access that money, then turning around and paying companies a kickback for forcing its employees into that process, companies like NetSpend have created a product that employers can “represent” as having “real benefits for them.” Regrettably the “them” in this case isn’t the employee, its the bank and the employer.
Joshua Schwitzerlett is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.