More US Employers Are Trapping Workers in a New Form of Indentured Servitude

Bosses in industries such as retail, health care and logistics are reverting to an old tactic and trapping people in miserable jobs by threatening to saddle them with debt if they quit. Workers across the United States in fields ranging from nursing to trucking have been discouraged from leaving jobs they hate or can’t afford to keep because employers vow to charge them for training costs if they quit before an arbitrary deadline.

The threats are backed by so-called Training Repayment Agreement Provisions (TRAPs) in employment contracts. The practice has been likened by critics to indentured servitude and peonage — formerly common types of debt bondage in which a borrower was bound to perform labor for a creditor.

Two workers who are being threatened with thousands of dollars in bills through the enforcement of TRAPs appeared before the banking committee on September 7. BreAnn Scally, the lead plaintiff in the class action against PetSmart, told lawmakers about how she was left owing $5,500 to the company for a dog “Grooming Academy” that was initially advertised as free. Registered nurse Cassie Pennings testified about being stuck with $7,500, “more than six months’ rent,” after leaving one hospital job because she was appalled by staffing ratios during the COVID-19 pandemic and didn’t want to be complicit in neglecting patients.

Truthout More US Employers Are Trapping Workers in a New Form of Indentured Servitude