Steal Something from Work Day 2011 is just around the corner—this coming April 15! To prepare for it, you could print out copies of Heist, our full-length Journal of Workplace Reappropriation, to sneak into all the locker rooms and dish pits in your area. You could forward links to the original Steal Something from Work Day video and the impressive Submedia follow-up to all your friends and family, if perhaps not your coworkers. There’s even a Facebook page you could join.
Or you could contact our friends at Wild Nettle Distribution, who will freely send you STEAL SOMETHING FROM WORK DAY stickers to spread the word where you live. They’ll be sending out packs of 25-50 at no cost—all you have to do is email email@example.com. Don’t forget to include a name and address; donations help, but are not mandatory. If you’d like more than 50 stickers, please help cover printing and shipping costs; for example, a $10 donation for 100 stickers would be great. Perhaps you could go in on a big package with others in your town? You can donate by sending money via Paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org. Unfortunately, Wild Nettle can’t afford to send international packages for free, so contact them if you live outside the US.
Stories from the Front Lines
Last year, we encouraged people to send in stories about workplace theft. Here are a few of the responses; you can read a great deal more in Heist.
Steal from Work for Education
The high school decided that to save costs, all teachers had to provide their own lined and graph paper for their students. Use of the copy machine is free, however. A single page of graph paper and a double-sided printer equals about 500 pages of paper for the math department. Sometimes making the teacher’s job easier at the cost of the administration is a genuinely philanthropic act.
Steal from Work to Stay Hydrated
The man in the suit and his hostile smoldering eyes are on me. I’m standing in the corner of the movie theater lobby. After unloading the delivery, I hold the wooden palette in my hands. I have to bring it out to the dumpster in the ice rain. My hands sting from the splinters and the wind.
I come back in and bring a cold sweat on my forehead. I go for a cup of water.
“No drinking in the lobby,” the manager says.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
Since I can’t drink his tap water in front of the customers, then I’ll just mosey on down to the basement… where I just unloaded three cases of Vitamin Water.
In the basement, all the concessions and supplies are in storage. My hands feel burned and raw as I take the cap off a Vitamin Water.
I can sense the liquid energy hit my teeth, but it only makes my fatigue more vivid. I calculate the math of this steal. Minimum wage plus movie theatre overpriced drinks equals an almost living wage. Except the bosses are disrespectful and the job is dirty. Some of my immigrant friends tell me I’m so American—liking baseball, jeans, and quantifying things. But is financial oppression uniquely American?
I decide to hunt down some paper towels and a box of large garbage bags for my house. Time to get even, but this can’t be the end.
–Aspiring Author Dan Larkins
Steal from Work to Party
Summer 2000 was the most enjoyable example of employee theft I’ve experienced at the workplace. I worked at an alcohol distribution warehouse where employee theft was common. There was so much theft going on that it had become a point of tension between the owners and workers. They even hired a manager specifically to tackle the problem. This manager was universally despised among all workers.
Some were alcoholics; some stole to sell beer and wine on the street. Still others simply stole to get drunk. In this particular instance, it was a bunch of teenagers barely out of high school looking to get beer for their party. I was working second shift in the truck, shipping; these new guys had been working there only a couple weeks and already had got the drift of how things worked.
If a case of beer had a bottle broken in it, it was no good to ship, so it would go to the breaker pile, from which employees and friends of employees could buy $1 wines and $5 cases of beer. Needless to say, I had a technique for loading cases of beer where the case would drop on a corner and only one beer would break, effectively ruining the case, sending it to the breaker pile. So these teenagers came up to me saying, “We heard you were the guy to talk to if we wanted to get a case of beer from the breaker pile.” I asked them their beer of preference.
About an hour later, sure enough, a case of beer fell, breaking one bottle, ruining the case. I quickly loaded it onto the pallet going to the breaker pile and rushed it over. However, the case had become so soggy that when I lifted it, it fell apart, and a second bottle fell, only to break, ruining the case. I said disappointedly, “Oh man!” and scrambled to gather the unbroken bottles from the ground. Half the workplace came over to see what was going on. The teenagers asked what was wrong, and I replied “It’s ruined. It isn’t any good now.” Frustrated, I grabbed a bottle, cracked it open, and began to chug it down. The teenagers paused, watching me drink, then grabbed bottles and joined in. After they started, everyone else rushed over, drinking down the “ruined” beer.
I was on my second beer when the anti-theft manager came around the corner and saw the spectacle of all the workers drinking illegally. I looked him in the eye defiantly as I turned my bottle up in my lips, the beverage pouring down my throat in rebellion. He stood there for a second, realized it was a battle he could only lose, and walked away. We laughed about the incident and I promised the teenagers I’d get them a better case as soon as I could.
Steal from Work to Stay Focused on the Job
I got out of school and walked the 25 minutes to the Baskin Robbins downtown, passing my coworkers and heading to the back to grab an apron and a visor. As I got dressed, I checked the clock: 2:45, early. I was almost always on time, and always showed up for my shifts. While this may seem like the bare minimum expected of an employee, being where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there and not spending whole shifts on the phone shouting at my significant other qualified me as one of the best employees there. This is because my boss hired exclusively high school students. The advantage of that was that she could pay us very little (after nearly three years I was making 75 cents more than when I started); she even had a system for screwing us out of our tips from time to time. She could also mess with our schedules and push us around in all sorts of other ways. The disadvantage was that somebody like me, who was really quite bad at my job, could be a star employee.
I clocked in and went to deal with the line of customers extending out the door. It was like this all summer, every summer, from opening till close: never-ending lines of customers, each more disrespectful than the last. Kids upset that their Shrek cups didn’t look like the one in the picture, parents furious that buying ice cream hadn’t stopped their bratty kids from being upset.
I took the first order, two single scoops in cups. Those cost $1.80 each. I turned to the second register, the one facing away from customers: when you were using it, your back was to the web-cam which my boss watched from her home. I entered in one single scoop. The person paid with a five and I gave them back $1.40, making a mental note that there was now an extra $1.80 in the register. It wasn’t just that I thought that my time was worth more than I was being paid; this was how I kept from getting bored. This was how I kept from getting angry. I would do this over and over again throughout the afternoon and night. As customers verbally abused me and looked at me like I was an idiot, I smiled blankly, lost in the math of how much I could skim off their order. The real beauty of this trick was that even if one night there was no opportune time to swipe the money, few bosses will seriously investigate when there’s too much money in the register.
There were a dozen games like this one could play to stay entertained during a shift. My coworker, Devon, was staying interested by selling weed out of the store. Double cupping single scoops with a bag in between the cups, his customers leaving twenty dollars in a crumpled cup beneath the dumpster in back for him to fetch on his next cigarette break. I had taught him that trick back before I’d figured out my new tricks with mental arithmetic. I had no fear that he would notice what I was doing, as he was fully preoccupied and probably high as well.
Then there was the manager, Natalie, who happened to be my girlfriend and was no doubt in the process of doing the same thing I was. At the end of the night we’d compare figures, usually coming out with about $40 each. My friend, Wes, walked into the store and waited patiently for me to take a break. When I finally met him out back, I had a treat: “I finally figured out how to make the smoothies vegan!” I handed over the smoothie with a giant cup of granola from the toppings bar. This was my favorite part of the job, and of every food service job I’ve worked since: gift-giving. It’s so easy to be generous when you don’t actually own the things you’re giving away.
Natalie stuck her head out the back door: “We’re gonna swap the kids at Nice Slice some milkshakes, what topping do you want?”
I thought for a moment. “Broccoli and onions, and one that’s half no cheese for Wes.” We had relationships all over town. We traded ice cream products to the kids at Nice Slice for pizza, the kids at Starbucks for fancy coffee, and the kids at Bruegger’s for bagels; a couple of my coworkers had even swapped with the guy at the liquor store a couple of times. Food was the most common thing taken, given away, or traded, but it certainly didn’t stop there. Rubber gloves were in demand for those of us with graffiti habits; empty (and sometimes full) whipped cream cans were taken for recreational purposes (if they weren’t consumed on sight); for our friends who lived on their own, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, saran wrap and any other household items were always welcome. The thing about food service is that there’s so much waste that keeping track of supplies is extremely difficult, so the question about everything in the store was “Is this item useful to anyone outside of an ice cream shop?”
Wes thanked me for the food and headed out to write his name on other people’s stuff until I got off at 10:30. When the door had been locked, the last customer served, the floor mopped, the windows wiped, and the register counted—$42.35 for me, and similar adjustments for Natalie—I turned to her: “How many folks are coming over?”
I opened the freezer. “Vanilla chocolate chip?”
“Sounds good,” she said, grabbing a sleeve of single scoop cups off the shelf beneath the counter. I pulled one of the 5 gallon tubs from the freezer in back and rolled it out the back door before setting the alarm—y’know, to stop burglars.
Steal from Work for Downright Dadaism
OK, so there’s your garden-variety stealing from work, which is basically about survival. Of course, it can never go past a certain point, since you also need the job for survival. Fair enough, right?
But there’s another kind of stealing from work for people who can afford to lose their jobs or who just don’t care anymore. People who are so fed up with wage slavery they’re ready to abolish themselves if no one’s gonna abolish it. This kind of stealing from work isn’t about survival, it isn’t about accomplishing goals—so it doesn’t have any built-in limits. It’s a kind of psychological terrorism to make sure the bosses never know what to expect. It doesn’t help the ones who do it—working class revenge almost never does—but it shows the war is still on.
Back in high school, I used to work in the dish room at a college cafeteria. We’d get three thousand, four thousand dirty dishes coming in on the conveyer belt every meal—people getting scalding water in their shoes, skin coming off, the whole nine yards. The only way I could handle it was to grab a dish about every half hour, go out the back door, and sling it against the trash compactor as hard as I could. Maybe that’s not stealing, exactly, but the only thing I wanted to do with anything in that place was destroy it. If we’d taken over our workplace, Argentina-style, I would have voted to burn it to the ground, not to self-manage it or whatever.
That same year, my buddy “Bill” applied at a grocery store. First day on the job the manager shows him around, gives him the routine, and then puts him in the back room to move stock or some shit. There are big boxes of whipped cream there, and as soon as the guy is gone Bill huffs all the whipped cream and passes out. The manager comes back and sees him there, with all the cans and everything. Can you imagine what he must have thought? Like, “I have to run a business with these fuckups?”
A few years later, “Chris” worked for a month behind the register at a gas station and spent the whole time calling Belgium on their land line. He ditched out just before the bill came in. He used to do shit like that a lot.
But my favorite story is when “Zach” worked graveyard at UPS. All night, he would unload boxes off a conveyer belt with this camera pointed right at him. He did that shit for months, getting more and more pissed off. One night he comes in and he’s the only one working in the room, lugging all these boxes. Finally he picks up one of them, carries it over to the camera and sets it down, and cuts it open with his pocketknife. Inside it’s chewing gum, case after case of the stuff. He takes one of them out, opens it up, unwraps a stick of gum, and puts it in his mouth, looking right into the camera the whole time, and starts chewing, real slow. Then he walks out.