For disgruntled employees along Apple’s supply line in China there aren’t many options; if you don’t like unpaid overtime, unrealistic production quotas, deplorable living conditions, being denied breaks, militaristic management, or inhumane working conditions then you have three choices: leave and cripple your family, stay and live with it, or as some have tragically done who simply can’t cope with the dehumanizing reality, take your own life. Not great options if you ask me.
For disgruntled employees along Apple’s supply line in North America, however, the options are seemingly endless (and the problems distinctly less severe), with news that 20,000 angry former Apple employees are doing what any God-fearing American does when things don’t go their way: they’re suing someone.
Earlier this week Apple was hit with yet another class action lawsuit, this time from 20,000 former retail employees and junior engineers who are claiming that Apple knowingly denied them lunch breaks, rest breaks, and failed to issue their final pay cheques. To put things in perspective, at the time of writing none of the 20,000 in this class action suit had taken their lives over their working conditions at Apple here in North America. #firstworldproblems.
There are two things that bother me with this story: First, while those 20,000 former employees have the right to pursue legal action against an employer who has treated them unfairly, I would guess that this story sparks considerably more outrage across the nation than any of the innumerable stories written about the deplorable conditions along Apple’s supply line in China. That is, we care more about people who don’t get breaks during an 8-hour shift in our country than we do about people taking their own lives in another country because of the soul crushing toll demanded when assembling our favourite gadgets.
Second, that despite what Apple’s public relations department will tell you, the Cupertino tech giant is a horrible company that is able to accumulate massive amounts of disposable wealth in large part because it overcharges for its products and underpays its employees. While I would wager a guess that those along Apple’s supply line in China would take the situation of their North American counterparts in a New York minute, the fact remains both situations show that Apple is more than willing to mistreat its employees, regardless of their location, and the severity of such mistreatment is only tempered by the employment laws of those respective countries.
In brief, Apple is immoral, grossly so, as clearly the company routinely decides to mistreat its employees in order to save a dollar, regardless of what country they work in. If Apple truly cared about its employees (and CEO Tim Cook has assured us that his company does), both those who work directly for the company and those along the company’s supply line, its actions would look markedly different.
It wouldn’t need local employment laws to tell it how to treat people, or how much to pay them, or how long to work them, it would know that employees should be treated fairly and respectfully, they should be paid a living wage and given a chance to rest and recuperate, particularly when engaging in the mind-numbing, soul-sucking work of assembling and selling Apple devices.
In the end, the situation for Apple employees in California looks depressing indeed. “Very often workers were not given meal breaks for seven or eight hours, and sometimes not at all,” said the plaintiffs’ counsel Tyler Belong. But as much as this story fuels my anti-Apple fervour, let me say I probably won’t be shedding any tears for these 20,000 employees, choosing instead to remember that they worked in a veritable paradise compared to their Chinese counterparts.