Apple union's 'Day of Solidarity' to protest working conditions

As the iPhone 5 hits stores, an Apple workers union asks store employees to demand better conditions in France and at Foxconn.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Apple stores selling the iPhone 5 today may see more than just customers outside their doors.

The Apple Workers Union wants store staffers to protest in front of Apple stores today to show solidarity for employees in France and at China's Foxconn plant. The union's "Day of Solidarity" is aimed at stores in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, France, Germany, China, and Japan -- the same countries offering the iPhone 5 starting today.

Calling on workers to "demand a better Apple," the union is backing Apple Store employees in France who are striking for a cost of living increase and access to fresh drinking water, among other items.

Apple hires Foxconn to make most of its iPhones Jay Greene/CNET

At one of the two Apple stores in Paris, people from two different groups raised their voices in protest earlier today. The Solidaires Unitaires Democratiques (SUD) union is looking for better benefits, while former Apple retailer eBizcuss is complaining of poor treatment by Apple, forcing it to close its doors in July.

SUD Secretary Laurent Degousee told CNET that the union is asking for rest breaks for employees, drinking water, and vouchers to pay for meals at local restaurants since eating in Paris is "very expensive." The union also is requesting a 13th month of pay at the end of the year, creating a bonus of around 8 percent for each worker. Both the extra month of pay and restaurant vouchers are commonly offered by employers in France.

The French protest has yielded one improvement so far, in that Apple has agreed to provide restaurant vouchers.

The Apple Workers Union also says it wants better conditions for employees at Foxconn and other factories that make Apple products. Foxconn has long been criticized for poor labor conditions, especially after a rash of worker suicides in the past. Though Apple and Foxconn both say they've tried to improve conditions, watchdog groups continue to find several faults.

"One more suicide is one more too many; it needs to stop," the union announced on its Web page. "Apple appears to be making good on promises but they can do more. Every worker deserves fair pay for a fair work day without overtime and harassment by managers."

The union also is up in arms about recent moves by Apple retail VP John Browett. The retail chief reportedly admitted that he "messed up" when he tried to implement a new system that cut hours for some store workers and left certain Apple stores understaffed.

Despite Browett's mea culpa, employee morale has allegedly suffered due to a lack of information about budget cuts and staffing changes, as well as a greater focus on sales and profits over customer satisfaction.

"Reports of unethical and even illegal actions by managers [include] forced work off the clock, changing work schedules once they're posted and doing so without notice, and even engaging in improper relationships," the union said. "We're also demanding simple things such as fairness and transparency in hiring and promotions, and the immediate re-hire of workers 'laid off' by Browett's 'mess up' in August."

The union is planning another day of solidarity on September 28 at Apple stores in Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, and Sweden -- the day the iPhone 5 reaches consumers in those countries.