Tools of the Trade

Hey, kids–

The alternate title to this blog is, “Business screws over workers to make a profit and I use their products but I have no idea how to get the juggernaut’s attention or what to do about it.”

Thanks to Broadside Blog for pointing out this article in the New York Times Business section.

The article is titled “Apple’s Retail Army, Long on Loyalty but Short on Pay,” by David Segal.

I’m a writer. I use Apple products to accomplish many of my goals as a writer. I’m blogging right now on a MacBook that I’ve had since about 2005 and just upgraded to the Snow Leopard OS. That’s right. I was using Tiger up until this year. I’ve been really pleased with my MacBook, written several manuscripts on it, and had few problems that weren’t easily fixed with a call to Mac tech help or a visit to an Apple store, and always with good, friendly service.

So I was a little bummed, but not entirely surprised, to read the article. But again, Apple is a corporation, and one of its purposes might be to make consumers happy, but ultimately, it wants to make money. And in terms of capitalism, generally, somebody gets screwed in that process or doesn’t get as big a piece of the pie.

Read on for more…

Here’s the gist of the article:
Worldwide, its [Apple’s] stores sold $16 billion in merchandise.

But most of Apple’s employees enjoyed little of that wealth. While consumers tend to think of Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., as the company’s heart and soul, a majority of its workers in the United States are not engineers or executives with hefty salaries and bonuses but rather hourly wage earners selling iPhones and MacBooks.
source: “Apple’s Retail Army,” David Segal


About 30,000 of the 43,000 Apple employees in this country work in Apple Stores, as members of the service economy, and many of them earn about $25,000 a year. They work inside the world’s fastest growing industry, for the most valuable company, run by one of the country’s most richly compensated chief executives, Tim Cook. Last year, he received stock grants, which vest over a 10-year period, that at today’s share price would be worth more than $570 million.

The article does point out that this is a reflection of the tech industry, and of something else in American industry in general:

The Internet and advances in computing have created untold millionaires, but most of the jobs created by technology giants are service sector positions — sales employees and customer service representatives, repairmen and delivery drivers — that offer little of Silicon Valley’s riches or glamour.

Much of the debate about American unemployment has focused on why companies have moved factories overseas, but only 8 percent of the American work force is in manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job growth has for decades been led by service-related work, and any recovery with real legs, labor experts say, will be powered and sustained by this segment of the economy.
source: “Apple’s Retail Army,” David Segal

Apple stores, the article notes, tend to attract younger workers (think someone in their 20s) who grew up with technology, are fresh out of college, aren’t really sure what they want to do, don’t have dependents, and are willing to work for less, live cheaply while buying into the ethos of “doing something good for people” by fixing their computer problems or hooking them up with the right product.

They do not work on commission, and the article notes that many of the positions at Apple stores are not “career track.” There aren’t many opportunities for promotion (according to the article), because of the types of positions there are. Basically, Apple capitalizes on an unlimited supply of younger, idealistic workers willing to work for less who believe in the overall Apple ideology. And because Apple products are generally manufactured overseas, for even cheaper rates of pay (we’ve all heard about the issues at the Chinese Apple plants, e.g.), the company racks up more profits and manages to keep products cheaper for consumers. Those profits don’t trickle down, but that strikes me as typical of a lot of corporate processes of a lot of companies.

And no, I don’t know what to do about this situation. I’m not demanding that somebody come up with a solution and I’m not calling for a boycott of Apple. I’m just providing this article as an example of what’s happening in tech, with one company, and how its business practices are a little at odds with its marketing campaigns. Tell us something we don’t know. It’s like so many other corporations.

For my part, I’d sure like to have an American manufacturing base back, but I don’t know what that would look like in terms of wages for local workers and how that would play out across pricing spectra for consumers. Used to be we did have a hell of a manufacturing base, and people were still able to afford products made in this country, so it seems it’s a workable model, and that there are ways to work within communities to further similar goals. But I also have a feeling that this viewpoint would be contested from a variety of perspectives. [shrug]

My reality is that I use tech products, and that I like Apple because of its ease of use and tech support/customer service. Writers have to use tech in this day and age. I can’t write on a legal pad with pen or pencil anymore and expect that anybody’s going to want to read that. I have to interface in some way, with technology, to get my work out there. I also doubt that any other tech company is doing things much differently than Apple with regard to its retail stores or online shops. Or even with regard to its overseas plants.

And I just don’t have any ready answers about what to do that would help workers, help minimize things like eco-speak footprints, and ensure that consumers have access to products like Apple’s. My hands certainly aren’t clean in this.

It’s a question/problem in this country that goes back over a hundred years. Businesses screwing workers to make a huge profit and claiming that it “helps keep prices down for the consumer.” We haven’t solved this problem.

I think what is most telling for me, however, is not that Apple engages in screwing its workers, but rather that I’m not surprised by it. We as a society have come to expect that corporations will chase a profit, screw their workers, and we’ll still buy their products. And I honestly don’t know what to do about it.

So that’s what I’m thinking about, on this hot summer Sunday. Sigh. Hope your day is going well, and that your week is fab.

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