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Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

Want to work selling Apple products? Expect peanuts

In behavior, business, design, journalism, Media, Technology, work on June 24, 2012 at 1:46 am
Apple Inc.

Apple Inc. (Photo credit: marcopako )

Here’s a long, detailed and depressing story from today’s New York Times about how badly Apple pays its front-line workers:

America’s love affair with the smartphone has helped create tens of thousands of jobs at places like Best Buy and Verizon Wireless and will this year pump billions into the economy.

Within this world, the Apple Store is the undisputed king, a retail phenomenon renowned for impeccable design, deft service and spectacular revenues. Last year, the company’s 327 global stores took in more money per square foot than any other United States retailer — wireless or otherwise — and almost double that of Tiffany, which was No. 2 on the list, according to the research firm RetailSails.

Worldwide, its stores sold $16 billion in merchandise.

But most of Apple’s employees enjoyed little of that wealth…

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.

If you read the whole story, you’ll find one more tale of dashed illusions, of bright, eager and capable employees who thought — oh, honey we all did! — they were, you know, different. They’d make the impossible leap into management, a good salary, commission and/or a big raise.

Retail is the third-largest industry in the U.S. and the fastest-growing source of new jobs.

Shitty jobs. Part-time. Low wages. No benefits. No commission. No bonus.

Most importantly, and most confounding to anyone who still believes America is a land where hard work is rewarded with opportunity to rise, frontline retail jobs — no matter how sexy the product — typically offer little to no chance of upward mobility within the company whose huge profits your cheap labor enables.

As one worker told David Segal of the Times:

Like many who spoke for this article, Shane Garcia, the former Chicago manager, talked about Apple with a bittersweet mix of admiration and sadness. When he joined the company in 2007, he considered it a place, as he said, that “wanted you to be the best you could be in life, not just in sales.”

Three years later, his work life seemed tense and thankless. He had little expectation that upper management would praise or even notice his efforts.

Sales employees, Mr. Garcia and others noted, deal with stresses all their own. Though commissions are not offered, many managers keep close tabs on sales of warranties, known as Apple Care, and One to One, which is personal tutoring for a fee. Employees often had goals for “attachments” as these add-ons are called — 40 percent of certain products should include One to One, and 65 percent should include Apple Care.

Retail is a game of bait-and-switch, of metrics used against low-wage employees to prove they’re productive to keep their job — but never worth much more money.

I lived this world, as a part-time sales associate, working for The North Face, an internationally known brand of outdoor clothing and equipment for 27 months. I earned $11/hr, with no bonus or commission, no matter how much merchandise I sold. Like Apple workers, we were measured by things like sales per hour or UPTs (units per transaction.)

Yet, no matter how much merch we moved, we never made a living wage.

Like the Apple workers in this story, I also quit, (grateful to have boosted my writing income high enough to free myself), also deeply disappointed in the enormous gap between that brand’s sheen and the thankless grunt work of selling their stuff.

I wrote a book about it, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, out in paperback July 31 (also available, now, as an e-book). You can read the first two chapters free, here. It’s been compared to “Nickeled and Dimed” for its unvarnished look at low-wage labor in America and was nominated for the Hillman Award, given to “journalists who pursue investigative reporting and deep storytelling in service of the common good.”

Since initial publication, in April 2011, I’ve received dozens of emails from retail workers, past and present, managers and associate alike, telling me how accurate my book was in describing the hell of much retail work. I got the latest only a few days ago, from a Canadian woman my age, working in a women’s clothing store:

We make a small wage (no raise) and are expected to purchases clothes from our store that can cost us 2 months wages.  Most of us (sales associates) just buy our clothes at thrift stores.

Nice.

The Times story has clearly hit a nerve.

As I write this, 513 comments have already been posted; in the time it took me to finish this post, that number rose to 548…

Have you worked retail?

How was it for you?

Without trust, we’re toast. Guess what? We’re toast.

In behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, news on March 17, 2012 at 1:14 am
Česky: Foxconn Pardubice, GPS: 50°1'28.591&quo...

Image via Wikipedia

There are few moments more nausea-inducing than realizing you have placed your trust and faith in the wrong person/place/institution.

I recently blogged, favorably, about a performance artist named Mike Daisey, whose one-man show about malfeasance at Foxconn, a Chinese manufacturing giant that makes computers for Apple, Dell and many others, was a huge hit here in the U.S., and received national attention and acclaim on This American Life, a respected and smart radio show.

Now it seems he made some of it up:

“Numerous fabrications” have been found in “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” the much-heralded story by Mike Daisey about dangerous and exploitative conditions in the Apple company’s Chinese factories.

Recent fact-checking about the story, which was first presented on Jan. 6, 2012 over National Public Radio outlets as an episode on Ira Glass’ show, “This American Life,” and subsequently performed as a critically acclaimed monologue at the New York Public Theatre (where it is scheduled to close Sunday after a much-extended run), has turned up inaccuracies involving facts both large and small, including the fabrication of several characters.

“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was to be performed by Daisey at the Chicago Theatre on April 7. That performance has been cancelled. And tonight, NPR affiliate WBEZ, 91.5 FM, will air a segment about the Daisey controversy on “Marketplace” (which begins at 6:30 p.m.), followed by a full hourlong investigation of the issues on “This American Life” (beginning at 7 p.m.).

The show is set to complete its runs at New York’s Public Theatre this Sunday. The theater, which does not plan to cancel the final performances, issued this statement:

“In the theater, our job is to create fictions that reveal truth — that’s what a storyteller does, that’s what a dramatist does. ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’ reveals, as Mike’s other monologues have, human truths in story form.

And….cue dominoes falling.

This is the nature of journalism, for better and for worse. I now feel stupid and gullible for believing his “story form” — (WTF is that?) — and promoting his work.

But I also loathe, and want to expose, crummy and exploitative labor practices, some of which I wrote about in Malled, my book about retail work — in which I also detailed the eleven Foxconn worker suicides of May 2010. There have since been more.

I’m writing this on an Apple computer. I use an Ipad and an Apple laptop. My hands, morally speaking, are dirty!

Here’s the problem.

We want to work with people whose opinions, education, work ethic and principles we share and trust. Without the basic underpinning of trust — “Why, yes, I do believe your story” -- we can’t function culturally, socially, politically or financially.

We also all need to remain awake, skeptical, critical and questioning.

But the media — and I’ve been a journalist since 1980 — are also prey to “pack journalism”, rushing headlong to embrace the trope-of-the-day lest they look slow, stupid, uncool or lazy in front of their peers and bosses and readers and listeners.

And there are stories we want to believe. There are stories that are virtually impossible to report firsthand and when someone brings home the goods, we sigh in relief and hand them a laurel wreath for doing what we could not or did not or never would do ourselves.

Here’s yet another cheerful story this week of deception and broken trust — an Amish man who took $17 million from his co-religionists in 29 states and invested it improperly.

And an op-ed in this week’s New York Times called out some pretty ugly behaviors (gasp!) behind the doors of Goldman Sachs, where fat cat bankers call their clients “muppets”.

Wrote Greg Smith, 33, a GS banker who thus burned his bridges to his former employer:

Today, many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

Such a world we live in!

Do you trust what you read and hear?

From which source(s) and why?

There’s Blood On Your Ipad

In business, Money, Technology, work on January 9, 2012 at 12:46 am
Not a Mac mini ...

You know that, right?

It’s on mine as well. I’m writing this on a Mac and much of my work is done on on a Mac laptop.

But I have yet to find a way to reconcile where and how these products are made — the subject of this one-man show currently playing in New York City. Mike Daisey managed to find his way to Shenzhen, China and to the vast community/company town run by Foxconn, whose workers who sleep in enormous dormitories, a hive of cement cubicles, required to work shifts so long and onerous that — as I was finishing “Malled” — the company made unwelcome front-page news as 12 desperate workers committed suicide by jumping out of their windows.

Their solution? Nets.

Daisey was recently interviewed on The Leonard Lopate Show, (a daily Manhattan culture-based talk show on WNYC),  and one of his words stuck with me: workers there, he said, are seen as interchangeably and dispassionately as “biomass.”

Seriously?

Yes.

I spoke recently to a smart, wise career journalist, someone who has seen China firsthand from the Tiananmen Square to today; her last visit there was two years ago. She unhesitatingly agreed with Daisey’s assessment: “People have no idea. China right now just wants to make money and everything else be damned. They don’t care about workers or unions or rights. If someone drops dead on the assembly line, there are literally millions more eager to take their place.”

I include reporting on Foxconn and the suicides in my new book about retail because every time we buy something made in so ugly and brutal a fashion, we’re de facto implicated.

We all know who Steve Jobs was.

Few of us know who Terry Gou is, the CEO of Foxconn; this link is to a Wall Street Journal profile, when he was heading Hon Hai — and Gou, then, in 2007, was worth some $10 billion:

With a work force of some 270,000 — about as big as the population of Newark, N.J. — the factory is a bustling testament to the ambition of Hon Hai’s founder, Terry Gou. In an era when manufacturing has been defined by outsourcing, no one has done more to shift global electronics production to China. Little noticed by the wider world, Mr. Gou has turned his company into China’s biggest exporter and the world’s biggest contract manufacturer of electronics.

Hon Hai’s revenue has grown more than 50% a year in the past decade to $40.6 billion last year. It is expected to add $14 billion in revenue this year. That is roughly the equivalent of Motorola’s adding, within a year, the sales of CBS Corp.

Throughout his company’s rise, the 56-year-old native of Taiwan has maintained a low profile. Publicity, he says, risks helping competitors and alienating customers. “I hate that I [have] become famous,” Mr. Gou said in a recent three-hour interview at Hon Hai’s Taiwan headquarters. It was Mr. Gou’s first interview with Western media since 2002, following more than five years of requests by The Wall Street Journal. “We are so big we cannot hide anymore.”

One of the smartest and most insightful shows on American public radio is This American Life, an hour-long weekly show by Ira Glass, which (for non-American readers here) is broadcast on 500 stations and has about 1.7 million listeners.  Glass did a special version of Daisey’s show for his show.

You can listen to it here. It is astonishing.

Daisey did the kind of firsthand reporting that journalists should be doing — and most often do not. He went to Shenzhen — a city of 14 million he describes as looking “like Blade Runner threw up on itself.” Highly unusual when reporting on Chinese labor, he spoke to many of its workers. He showed one man — whose hand was destroyed from making Ipads — what one looks like when it’s in use; workers never see the finished product, he said.

It is something every single user of these products must think about.

Is the only answer to boycott these products? I’m not sure anyone will.

Are there other, better solutions?


Having A Lousy Date? There's A New App For That

In behavior, Crime on May 22, 2010 at 9:52 am
Image representing iPhone 3G as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

Here’s a useful app – that turns your Itouch or Iphone into a rape whistle. From the Toronto Star:

On Friday, YWCA Canada announced its YWCA Safety Siren app, available free for download at the iTunes store.

The alarm — with a choice of three ear-splitting wails — goes off with either a press of the pink button or a shake, converting an iPhone or iPod Touch into a 21st-century version of the rape whistle.

Not only does the siren sound, but an email is automatically generated while a phone call gets made (if you have an iPhone) to preset emergency contacts. Both can attach a Google map pinpointing your location…

There are other safety apps already available, including an “I’m being assaulted’’ app that sends emails. There’s also an “Am I safe?’’ app that rates locations as go or no-go zones.

But neither combines all the features of the YWCA app, which is more than a siren. Hit the “Safe Date’’ button and there’s info on how to avoid trouble before you step out. The Health icon describes healthy ways to hook up. Dating 101 is a guide to guys, good and bad. Finally, the Geolocations tab will pop up a map showing the nearest health and rape crisis centres.

Even the most charming — often the most charming — of men can turn predatory. I doubt (m)any women are carrying rape whistles or Mace these days.

The wisest move, as every smart woman knows, is to let a friend know where you’re heading before going on a first date and/or avoiding a stranger’s car or apartment until you have some idea who he is. Having ended up in the clutches of a former felon, a man as handsome, well-dressed and chatty as they come, I know well that appearances mean little.

I think this is a smart idea.

The interesting question is what happens after that blast of noise — will anyone come to your aid? Or is it most useful as a distracting device, a chance to give you a few moments of surprise to flee?

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