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Surprise? Apple Underpays American Workers

Surprise? Apple Underpays American Workers

Though Apple seems to have dodged the controversy surrounding the working conditions at its subcontractors’ facilities in China, recent allegations have surfaced that hit far closer to home. According to a New York Times investigation, the pay of Apple store workers, who make up over two thirds of the company’s American workforce, is not commensurate to the amount of cash that these workers generate for the company. Indeed, workers who move on average almost half a million dollars worth of product annually have a starting salary of just $25,000 with little opportunity for growth.

Apple, exploiting a perpetually†weak labor market for young workers and their naivete, is able to squeeze these workers in several different ways, including:

  • paying employees less than they would make at comparable electronics stores such as Verizon, let alone Costco, despite moving much more money;
  • violating state labor laws by discouraging workers from taking their legally mandated breaks;
  • providing few, if any, opportunities for career advancement;
  • and overworking employees to the point where they suffer from stress-related illnesses.

Unfortunately, what allows Apple to continue to do this is its perpetual popularity — people will buy iPhones and iPads regardless of whether or not Apple is an ethical company, and there will be young people willing to work for cheap as long as the economy remains in a recession. Though one might argue that the high demand for Apple products justifies the low price of labor (that is, anyone could sell an iPad to a willing customer), the New York Times investigation disproves this notion, indicating that salespeople are especially crucial to selling the lucrative “add-ons” such as warranties and training.

These revelations further show the importance of encouraging ethical consumption and production. As a recent Care2 post argued, “Informed customers who care about the environment, their community and business ethics are a huge force for change.” The more aware we are of unethical behavior like this, the easier it is for us to consume ethically or demand change in company practice, moving the market with our purchasing decisions.

At the same time, B-Corporations focus on the production side of markets: instead of trying to maximize profit, they make it possible to pursue ethical and sustainable business practices. Indeed, as more states allow B-Corporations to exist, it will be easier for consumers to find products that were made and sold ethically instead of falling to a default like Apple.

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Photo from The Pug Father via flickr.

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26 comments

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10:37AM PDT on Jun 27, 2012

Gene-Take another green star my friend. That was a wonderful statement.

7:30PM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

I suspect that much of the anti-Apple sentiment expressed here has nothing to do with Apple's wages and instead is based on a general dislike of the company. I wonder how many of the Apple nay-sayers will turn around and go shopping at Walmart, Best Buy, or Home Depot…

3:26PM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

Ask Apple CEO Tim Cook how much money is enough as I just did. Don't forget to send along the link to this page, as well.

3:23PM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

Ask Apple CEO Tim Cook how much is enough as I just did.

1:49PM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

amazing how much they charge for their products and they still underpay their workers when you could get a pc based system for a fraction.

11:29AM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

Gee, I wonder how much Microsoft would be paying under similar circumstances?

Counter clerks are among the lowest paid of any employee. Apple doesn't pay commission because that encourages the employee to push more expensive products. Apple DOES give stock grants and such, which I've never heard anybody else do for counter clerks(I suppose there are such but...). Just for a bit of perspective, during the last depression(and that's what we have right now), when my father got his first job(1934) as a meat cutter trainee, he was paid $ 5.00 per 48 hour week and he loved it because, as he said "There were at least a hundred people standing in line for that job."

It's all about supply and demand. We have X number of jobs but there are 20 X number of people willing to do that work. When that happens, pay scales go down. I wouldn't mind making $ 25,000/yr at an Apple store but few employers want an old fart like me...

9:03AM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

What a slanted interpretation of the original article. For one thing it fails to mention that Verizon and AT&T stores pay their sales people on commission, which is an incentive for them to upsell the customer to more expensive phones and accessories that they don't need. Apple does pay more than most retailers, even though it does not pay the top salaries.

Furthermore, Apple advanced the September pay raises to June, and is increasing pay up to 25%. All of this was done before the article was published, and is not a reaction to the article.

Oh, in the interest of full disclosure, I own Apple products: An iMac, an iPhone, an iPad, and an iPod Nano—because they are the best products available in their categories. As soon as CREDO gets the iPhone, I will switch my network provider to CREDO, but until they do, I'll stay with a carrier that supports the iPhone. BTW, Credo uses Sprint's network, and Sprint isn't an angel any more than AT&T or Verizon is.

8:53AM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

As a former Apple employee I was surprised that the employees at the retail stores were paid so little. I worked in the call center taking escalated calls and our group was paid very well. With Apple making $40,000 per employee last year, they can definitely afford to pay more. As for the comment about Steve Job's legacy continuing, I have to say that the corporate attitude quickly changed for the worse after Job's death.

8:01AM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

Jolene-That is an excellent point, I work with a local food bank and at the end of the month we are overwhelmed with working families who have to come to us for food because they are paid so little by the big corporations (wal-mart being the worst offender) who are making billions while not paying their employees enough to live off of.

7:44AM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

Unfortunately, this is rather common anymore. Wages have grown tremendously for those at the top of companies but has stagnated for low-level employees, many of whom do not get benefits of any kind. The same companies that have executives earning multi-millions a year often also have employees whose rewards for their time and labor leaves them still qualified for food stamps and medicaid.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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