Problems with striking workers have been part of the history of companies with large labor forces which have limited bargaining power with their employers. Often these included tens of thousands of workers. Traditionally, they have been in the auto, mining, and railroad sectors.
Tech companies were not targets of strikes because they did not have low-paid retail workers. Their employee bases comprised highly paid engineers and marketers, many of whom had advanced degrees. Those days have ended for some big tech public corporations. They have created businesses that require hourly employees. These employees have started to claim that their highly profitable employers should pay them well above the minimum wage. One of the companies in this battle is Apple, arguably the most profitable company in the world.
The most recent retail worker dispute is in Australia. Apple has stores across dozens of countries. According to Reuters, “Apple Inc’s workers in Australia initiated a strike Friday afternoon, demanding better working conditions and wages, a workers’ union said, a move that might dent sales of the tech giant during the peak Christmas shopping time.”
Apple has faced disputes with workers in its US stores. These have been extremely limited. The most recent one was in Columbus, Ohio. However small these disputes are, they won’t go away. Apple currently has 273 stores in the US, which likely employ about 10,000 people. The number is much larger when overseas stores are included.
Apple’s primary problem with retailer workers is not whether it can afford to give them raises. In some ways it is odd that Apple does not do so. It can easily afford pay increases. That could end labor force trouble.
The Apple retail pay challenge should be viewed in a light different from the financial one. Apple has one of the world’s most valuable and widely admired brands. What happens if customers and potential customers see lines of workers who have walked out of stores because they believe they have been poorly paid? For Apple management, the question is how much its brand is worth and whether it should risk a labor dispute that could tarnish it.
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