During the past week, I’ve had the pleasure of attending three free workshops at the Apple Store in Boston’s Back Bay. There I’ve learned how to better use my various Apple gadgets. Each workshop — taught by different customer service specialists — was interesting, informative, and useful.
For people like me who don’t like reading the instructions but lack an instinctive feel for anything digital, the workshops are an easy way to get more value out of my purchases.
Too bad that Apple doesn’t reward its store workers for the value they bring to the company.
Great workers, low pay
As reported in an in-depth article by David Segal in Sunday’s New York Times, these store workers aren’t paid very well. In fact, especially given how much value they create for the company, their compensation is terrible:
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.
…By the standards of retailing, Apple offers above average pay — well above the minimum wage of $7.25 and better than the Gap, though slightly less than Lululemon, the yoga and athletic apparel chain, where sales staff earn about $12 an hour. The company also offers very good benefits for a retailer, including health care, 401(k) contributions and the chance to buy company stock, as well as Apple products, at a discount.
But Apple is not selling polo shirts or yoga pants. Divide revenue by total number of employees and you find that last year, each Apple store employee — that includes non-sales staff like technicians and people stocking shelves — brought in $473,000.
Labor market experts quoted in the piece observe that Apple deliberately sets its compensation so that most workers will not stay for a long time. However, even Apple must be self-conscious about their wages, because they announced pay hikes soon after the Times began investigating their compensation structure for store workers.
A global pattern of using cheap labor
Apple’s store workers aren’t the only ones who are underpaid. As Charles Duhigg and David Barboza reported for the Times earlier this year, Apple also has been using cheap overseas labor to build its products:
In the last decade, Apple has become one of the mightiest, richest and most successful companies in the world, in part by mastering global manufacturing. Apple and its high-technology peers — as well as dozens of other American industries — have achieved a pace of innovation nearly unmatched in modern history.
However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious — sometimes deadly — safety problems.
The public response to these revelations helped to prod Apple to take initiatives toward better compensation and working conditions for workers who assemble their products.
I have transitioned to Apple products over the past three years, largely because their interface is easy to use and their products are well built. The presence of Apple Stores to provide customer service also makes a difference.
But as many people know, Apple products aren’t cheap. My low-end MacBook cost much more than an entry-level PC laptop. And while the iPad is proving to be a remarkably handy machine, it’s an expensive piece of hardware.
Unfortunately, the factory workers who build their products and the store workers who sell them and assist customers are the most neglected pieces on the Apple compensation chain. Company executives no doubt are doing just fine on payday, and shareholders have been rewarded handsomely as well.
I’m not against decent salaries for successful executives and fair profits for those who invest in a company. But the situation at Apple is way out of hand. It’s time to fairly compensate the people who build and sell these products and service the customers.