This week, I visited Apple HQ for the first time. Now, I’m a recovering Apple fanboy, but I wasn’t there to see “the Mothership” or pick up Apple-logo swag at the Company Store. Instead, I was there to protest.
You see, while Apple takes a great deal of care when designing its products, it hasn’t taken nearly as much care of its employees. Engineers and programmers are well compensated, but support staff – the people who keep Apple’s buildings clean, its workers fed, and its secrets safe – are not. While Apple’s profits have skyrocketed over the past decade, its food-service workers, janitors, and security officers haven’t seen any share of these gains. In fact, they (and their counterparts at other tech companies) have seen the opposite: between 2000 and 2010, the median household income in Silicon Valley actually fell 19%.
At Apple, a group of security officers has been trying to change this. The average Silicon Valley security officer is paid just $30,971, around $10,000 less than the Self-Sufficiency Standard (a measure of the cost of basic expenses for a family of four, assuming both parents are working). That’s simply not enough to make ends meet in expensive Silicon Valley, so security officers have been pushing Apple to put just a fraction of it profits ($10.2 billion last quarter alone) into higher wages. Apple’s response, however, has been to pass the buck. When asked by KCBS radio about its treatment of security officers, Apple’s response was “technically, these guards are not our employees.”
Technically that’s true, but it’s disingenuous. Apple contracts with companies like Security Industry Specialists to provide security services, which then hires (and sets wages for) security officers. SIS has a history of paying low wages, not providing quality healthcare coverage, forcing officers to work part-time with unpredictable schedules, and intimidating workers who speak out. Apple chose this contractor, and could easily make better conditions a requirement for its contract (as it does for its manufacturing contracts in China) or switch to a more responsible security company.
Yet despite CEO Tim Cook’s statement in 2012 that “workers everywhere have the right to a safe and fair work environment,” Apple has continued to ignore the unfair conditions for security officers right at its own headquarters. That’s why I was at Apple on Wednesday – to send a message that was a little harder to ignore.
With about 40 other volunteers from Working Partnerships USA, the South Bay Labor Council, and other labor and community organizations, we turned Apple’s Company Store and “1 Infinite Loop” sign into a rally site. Armed with megaphones, banners, and blue t-shirts (similar to those worn by Apple store employees, but with a slightly different message), we called on Apple to do right by its workers. We also handed out flyers and spoke with Apple employees and visitors, explaining why we were causing a ruckus. Apple management apparently decided to pretend we weren’t there, but then again, what could they really do? Send their security officers to kick us out for demanding fair wages for security officers?
Our banners outside Apple HQ
Thanks to growing up around community organizers, I’ve been to plenty of protests and rallies, but this one felt really good. The engineers and other Apple employees we talked with seemed receptive, even taking photos of our banner comparing Apple’s profit growth to the declining median income in Silicon Valley. From talking with programmers and my computer science friends at Stanford (some of whom have gone on to work at Apple), I believe most tech workers would support fair wages and decent working conditions, but simply haven’t thought much about the problem. Unlike some other industries (such as fast food or Wal-Mart) where profits largely come from squeezing and underpaying workers, providing decent middle-class jobs to security officers and other support staff would barely dent profits for most tech companies.
Talking with Apple engineers and visitors
Hopefully Apple and other tech giants will come to this conclusion, and begin paying wages that allow workers to take care of their families and grow our economy. Until then, we’ll pull out our banners and megaphones, and keep coming back.