Talking tech since 2003

When you think of Apple employees, you might think of Silicon Valley techies working at the company’s massive, modern headquarters in Cupertino, California. While the campus hosts more than 10,000 employees, these are far from the only Apple workers. There are also other Apple facilities scattered across the U.S. and the world. One location just a few miles away is stirring up controversy on how its employees are treated.

Another side of Apple

The location in question is a nondescript building, referred to within the company as a “black site.” Black site is a military term referring to a place where an unacknowledged, secret project is being conducted. The building hosts Apple contractors who, according to Bloomberg, are working on Apple Maps. It also hosts other Apple employees whose assignment isn’t known, although Apple Insider speculated it could be related to the company’s self-driving car project.

The black site location is so secretive that managers told workers to walk a few blocks away before calling for an Uber or Lyft home, sources told Bloomberg. Workers also use the back door of the building. There is what looks like a reception area in the front of the building, but it’s not staffed.

Many of the workers at the site are contractors hired by a company called Apex Systems. These contractors say they aren’t treated nearly as well as direct Apple employees. Most of them work on contracts lasting 12 to 15 months. The majority leave when they’re contracts are up, and some leave before that. One contractor said many worked under the fear of being let go. The employees also reportedly began with a few months of training followed by a test. If the workers failed the test, they were fired.

“It was made pretty plain to us that we were at-will employees and they would fire us at any time,” a source told Bloomberg. “There was a culture of fear among the contractors, which I got infected by and probably spread.”

One reason you might want to work for Apple is to be able to put the name of such as prominent company on your resume. Apex managers, the report says, initially told employees they could list their employer as “Apple, via Apex Systems” but later instructed them to remove the word Apple.

Apex also reportedly cut the annual paid sick time from 48 hours to 24 hours, which prompted more than a dozen workers to quit. Some other complaints included understocked vending machines, not being allowed to use the gym and not being permitted to use the bathrooms on the side of the building occupied by direct employees.

Apple has said it requires all its staffing agencies to treat workers with dignity and respect. The company also conducted an audit of the location after reporters inquired about it and found that it was “consistent with other Apple locations,” according to Bloomberg.

A representative of Apex told Bloomberg that it “provides multiple avenues for employees to raise concerns, both directly and anonymously, and to have those concerns addressed.”

Part of a larger trend

It’s not uncommon for tech companies to work with contracting companies. Direct employees account for less than half of Google’s workers, and these contractors reportedly aren’t treated as well as the company’s direct employees. Facebook, Uber and others use contractors too. Apple also works with other agencies besides Apex.

This is neither the first labor-related issue that has surfaced regarding Apple nor the worst. Typically, these issues arise in the supply chain and involve factory workers. In November 2018, A group called Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior released a report about concerns in the Apple Watch supply chain. It alleged students were forced to work assembling Apple Watches in a factory in Chongqing, China, run by Quanta Computer. The students were told the work was part of an internship they needed to graduate, but many of the students were not studying anything related to what they were doing at the factory.

Apple has reported that it discovered labor violations in the past. In 2017, the company said it found three bonded labor violations in which a worker’s labor is repayment for a debt. It also discovered 38 other violations that year. In March of 2018, Apple released a report on how it’s working to improve its supply chain.

Will this latest report cause Apple to change its practices regarding contracted employees? Will it be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and inspires Apple enthusiasts to ditch the company? Maybe a few. The issues surrounding the Apple black site are just a small sample of the many facing the company.

While Apple is still incredibly successful, its public image is starting to suffer in some areas. If it wants to fix this, it’s going to have to show it’s serious about fixing its labor and supply chain problems.

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