Apple Store workers earn about the same as other retail workers

The New York Times is shocked at the travesty of paying workers well above the minimum wage and competing stores.

The New York Times continues its iEconomy series of in-depth reporting on the largest company in America, with an examination of what it's like to work in an Apple Store:

Last year, during his best three-month stretch, Jordan Golson sold about $750,000 worth of computers and gadgets at the Apple Store in Salem, N.H. It was a performance that might have called for a bottle of Champagne — if that were a luxury Mr. Golson could have afforded.

"I was earning $11.25 an hour," he said. "Part of me was thinking, 'This is great. I’m an Apple fan, the store is doing really well.' But when you look at the amount of money the company is making and then you look at your paycheck, it’s kind of tough."

David Segal, the article's author, is keen to contextualise the wage in terms, not just of the value of goods sold by the employees, but of how much the company earns overall:

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.

In fact, this article, as with the cross-national McWages Index we wrote about on Friday, just serves to illustrate a key point of labour economics: wages have just as much to do with every company the employee doesn't work for as the one they do. Apple offers above average pay, far outstripping the US minimum wage and beating clothes retailer Gap, but offering less than Lululemon, a yogo apparel chain.

Apple also offers strong benefits, important in the safety-net-free American economy, with health care, pensions, and discounts on stock purchases all provided to employees. 

The problem the employees have is that very little of the astonishingly high revenue per employee – comparable with sales in consulting, rather than retail, according to Asymco's Horace Dediu – is due to them. Apple is a hugely profitable company, which has more or less monopolised the high-end of at least three seperate consumer goods markets. It's as though BMW were not only the number one luxury car manufacturer, but also the number one motorbike and bicycle producer. As Slate's Matt Yglesias writes:

The converse of Apple Store workers not being rich despite the company's success is that Sears & K-Mart workers don't earn negative wages even though their company loses money.

Even if Apple wanted the best retail employees in the world, they would only have to pay a bit more than the company which is happy having the second best retail employees. And, judging by appearences, they don't. They are happy to have employees at much the same level as other high-end, but ultimately consumer-grade, companies.

And while they receive merely comparable relative incomes, the absolute income of an Apple Store employee is high enough that, as Yglesias adds, we should wish that everyone earns the same:

The really urgent question isn't why aren't Apple Store jobs better, but why are so many jobs worse than this?

Apple Store employees dance in Rome

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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