Thou Shalt Not Steal: Wage Theft & Moral Philosophy


INSTRUCTOR: Jeanette Smith


SCHEDULE: Thursday, 11:00am – 12:15pm (Hybrid)

Course Description

For many low-wage or part-time workers, wage theft is an inevitable aspect of their working lives. Wage theft includes not being paid for overtime, being paid less than the minimum wage, or not being paid at all. Once referred to as the crime wave that no one talks about, wage theft has become epidemic in the United States and elsewhere. But how did we get here? Most religious traditions and philosophies are very clear that theft of any type is wrong, yet wage theft and other workplace injustices are often justified by employers and some policy makers as “just the cost of doing business.”

In this course, we will examine not only wage theft but the conditions that lead to its occurrence including how wages and working conditions are determined from a moral standpoint. What does it mean to value workers? How do we determine which workers are essential? What can the voices of workers, advocates, and policy makers add to the discourse? In addition to examining research, articles, and other sources, this course will include conversations with workers and others who have either been directly affected by wage theft or directly advocated for policies to benefit workers.

We will not be limiting our explorations to the United States as this class will incorporate a collaborative online international learning (COIL) component. Students will work directly with their peers at a university in another country on a project related to the class content.