To generalize, the title can be "What It’s Like to Work Inside Company X's subcontractor."
Similar stories about subcontractors with less benefits & perks were written for Microsoft, Google, Amazon. Subcontractors are always going to be "2nd class citizens" compared to real employees of the client company. The phenomenon is not specific to the tech industry. Even a workers cooperative like Mondgragon outsources work to subcontractors and those non-employees complain about not being able to participate in Mondragon's benefits.
The "subcontractors" that have the same level (or higher level) of prestige and respect as the client company would be consulting companies like McKinsey or Bain.
I'm not quite sure why these stories keep coming up, given the vast amount of literature available describing why and how contracting, with it's bifurcated pay and benefits systems, can and is mutually beneficial to the organizations.
In fact the #1 thread, as of this writing, is about freelancing and has dozens of comments from freelancers.
One possible explanation for the frequency of the topic, is that it's not the structure of contracting that people are rejecting, but rather the wide disparity between the size, pay and benefits of the contractor vs the contractee. Nobody complains if Bain takes a contract with Apple, as both have good pay and benefits. Similarly nobody complains about the freelancer working for [megacorp] because the freelancer is independent and an owner. However, increase the wealth gap between the companies and now you have a story.
I doubt you’ll see this attitude at GM (despite unions) or Archer Daniels Midland, etc., because they don’t try to play both sides as much.
If you take a progressive social stance like the tech companies seem to like to do, with LGBT rights for example, then you're opening yourself up to criticism when you behave like a regular corporation in a place where you might not have taken a social stance, with the labor movement for example.
This image of the protective tent failing to cover everyone is the best representation I've seen:
Tangentially: Young me was all-or-nothing, and hated compromise. Middle aged me grew to appreciate incrementalism. Older me is rediscovering my inner ultimatist.
Hostage negotiator Chris Voss' prescription for successful negotiations is "Never split the difference." After witnessing the backlash to every progressive reform, I'm VERY open to adopting Voss' worldview.
Basically, I've adopted a "Leave no one behind." worldview.
I'm not aware of a term that means what you describe, perhaps it would be tied-in somehow with arguments about "equity vs equality."
There are arguments on both sides eg a Freelance Director of Photography is not going to want to be taxed as an employee.
- The government has no bottom line to maintain, contractor value-add is not easily quantified.
So the big staffing agencies largely just "fill seats," and the individual contractor's growth potential is limited, because they realistically can't fill the seat any better on day 365 than they could on day one-- most "senior" positions are literally basis seniority and only seniority.
Not just as a subcontractor. I used to work for a very large company, and it was just as bad as a full-time employee (and even worse for contractors!). Both of these statements applied there:
> One described the workplace as depressing and quiet, with everyone on edge.
> “There were many people who took initiative and made things, increased the efficiency. They weren’t rewarded in any way,” he says. “There were people who had abandoned any hope. They’d come in late, leave early, and just do nothing all day. They were treated the same as everyone else.”
It was absolutely horrible, and I will never let a firm get inside my head like that again.
If big tech companies want to own up to being heartless mercenary capitalists who will wring every drop of sweat out of workers and spit them out as burned-out husks with no savings at the age of 35, hey, that's the system we live in. But something seems off when they want to have their cake and eat it too– that is, they want to seem like inspiring, human-friendly forces for good, but quietly use the glow from that reputation to get away with subcontracting away a huge amount of their labor to people working in miserable conditions. There's a reason that some labels moved away from sweatshop labor: it's bad press. If Apple is going to effectively use sweatshop labor (through a contractor, whatever) they should have to eat the bad press. Don't defend it as just the contractor's fault. It's literally the exact same situation as a clothing sweatshop.
I work at tech services company that generally pays much better than the clients we work for and we are treated much better as well. We charge a lot to produce premium work. As a result, we have high-quality employees and are known to produce better work than our clients could do in-house. We have a client that is, let's say, equivalent to Apple and our relationship is great.
Incidentally, my previous employer actually did a lot of work for Apple. It was similar to my current shop. Employees were paid well and treated well. Apple put a lot of secrecy requirements on us as well as security rules (all meeting rooms need opaque doors, we could never publicize our work). Work hours were tough, but overall we were paid very competitive salaries and if Apple or any other client ever pulled the plug, we had other clients to staff workers too. Obviously we sometimes bent over backwards to retain Apple since they have such deep pockets, but it wasn't crazy.
I just don't buy this argument. It's no different from Nike accepting bids from factories that they should know are sweatshops or utilize child labor. It's no different from (before the sanctions) employing North Korean laborers whom you know are sending home most of their pay to support the Kim regime. The mere fact that an exchange of money is taking place in a business agreement doesn't somehow magically absolve a company of ethical responsibility.
Also, I don't think that Apple is especially covert about them being a (heartless) business like everybody else. Steve Jobs even said, in response to a question about bringing manufacturing back to USA: "We're in the business of making phones, not in the business of employing people". It was clear that people were mainly just means to an end for him.
But I'm not running what must be one of the world's best-funded PR machines telling everyone how great I am. Let's just call a spade a spade, eh? For all the "made in California" / "environmentally friendly materials/packaging" / "100% renewable energy in our facilities" stuff that's supposed to make you feel good about buying their products, the reality is a lot more grim. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-happened-after-the-foxconn...
And anyway the particular point I was replying to is that it's pretty silly to absolve Apple of responsibility just because they put a layer of contractor between them and the bad behavior. They know what's going on. It's no different ethically from Apple doing it.
Better to do one thing right if that's the best you can pull off!
Isn't that the definition of hypocrisy?
> spit them out as burned-out husks with no savings at the age of 35, hey, that's the system we live in.
This sounds really bad until you look at the happy contractors making over 6 figures, and are on track to retire in their 30s.
Everyone likes to complain, everyone wants more money. If you are making 6 figs and can't retire by 40, that was a personal decision.
7 million people live in SF Bay Area, and of those only about 800,000 work in technology . An article like "hey, look, someone sorta-kinda works for Apple, but doesn't make $300,000/yr" is incredibly ignorant for the reality of the majority of Bay Area residents. If you take a teacher's lifetime financial growth path, it'll look bleak, compared to a recent grad at a FAANG. However, that won't generate as many clicks.
The article very explicitly uses terminology to imply that the report is about an intelligence community black site. The article says this explicitly:
> Workers say managers instructed them to walk several blocks away before calling for a ride home. Several people who worked here say it’s widely referred to within Apple as a “black site,” as in a covert ops facility.
It says it is widely referred to within Apple as a covert ops facility. (It doesn't say jokingly referred to that way.) In addition it uses the word back door in the second paragraph, which is really evocative. It says:
>From the outside, there appears to be a reception area, but it’s unstaffed, which makes sense given that people working in this satellite office—mostly employees of Apple contractors working on Apple Maps—use the back door.
An editor who didn't want to evoke this would change it to secondary entrance, or simply, "don't use the main entrance". They wouldn't use the term back door. Bloomberg isn't some tabloid.
For better or for worse, people are missing that the article calls this a "covert ops facility" (using those exact 3 words) similar to room "Room 641A" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Room_641A
Finally, the suggestion to walk several blocks before hailing a ride doesn't make sense in any normal employee context. The article is calling this an intelligence community site, says so very explicitly, and puts that term in the title.
NOTE: I got mod approval to post this response, since I am doing so from a throwaway, but not to break the site guidelines.
On Thanksgiving, they had a special lunch prepared for everyone that had to come into the office (mostly just to monitor and be ready if anything went down). There were emails and signs, everyone was excited about it. When I went down with my team, they stopped me and a couple of other contractors at the door and said we couldn't go in unless we were full-time employees. There was no mention of that anywhere. We had to go get lunch somewhere else.
A couple of times a year they would buy movie tickets for everyone at a nearby theater. At lunch, the full-time staff would leave to go watch a movie for a few hours while the contractors stayed in the office.
Both of these weren't really a big deal, but they definitely made you feel like you were a second class employee.
I wasn't trying to say they should have offered these benefits to everyone, but sometimes it seemed like the contractors were just ghosts. It would have been nice to at least have these activities mentioned somewhere so you had some idea of what was going on (and if contractors were or weren't included).
Sometimes the full-time employees would all get up to go do something and you had no idea what was going on (and if you should go with them or stay back).
Sadly, the entire point is that they are not employees, let alone second class ones. In the end, it boils down to the perennial question of how much of your work is done by employees and how much by vendors. And it always leads to awkward situations. (Quite a few of those when I was an employee at Google and something I don't see as much anymore, luckily.)
IRS: here's a list of things that can be evidence you are using contractors as employees.
Walmart: OK we'll ignore every single one of them except that we won't provide them with health insurance, we won't withhold tax, and we won't let them eat Thanksgiving dinner or go to the movies.
There is a massive problem with employers skirting the law with respect to this, but companies don't care because enforcement isn't consequential enough to make them care.
Also I'm not saying it's never enforced, I'm saying the enforcement isn't consequential or consistent enough to convince companies to stop treating contractors like employees.
Huh? Why? Zero context and zero explanation given.
This article seems pretty sensationalist... when it's just describing the entirely normal practice of contracted employees.
I mean, seriously... complaints about lines for the men's room after lunch? Spoiler alert: (non-contract) employees of big tech companies encounter those too. All the time, from personal experience. Or that the color of one's badge is a "sad grey"? Give me a break.
Yes there are some arguably valid arguments to be made against the prevalence of contract workers in modern America... but this article ain't it.
Interestingly enough, that's one of my biggest complaint working @ Bloomberg.
I always wanted to find out if there was any relationship to the signs that warned people not to urinate in the showers...
To not appear too numerous every day at 5pm right outside the office entrance and draw suspicions as to what is in there?
Only really works if they are trying to give the impression that NO ONE works there at all, in the uk you will have plenty of satellite offices (and heck I’ve seen plenty of head offices) with little to no branding out front esp if they don’t expect clients / customers turning up at their door.
Doesn't have to be suspicious, it just has to draw attention to be unwanted: if you don't want to draw attention that it's an office and there are tons of people there work on Apple stuff, that is, which seems to be what they want to hide ("black site" et al).
Well, this is from Bloomberg. It's about what I expect these days.
Overall, I found them to be very accommodating and concerned with our needs. They treated us well. There has never been any expectation on my part that I would be receiving any regular employee benefits. I felt like Apple treated us better than our actual employer/sub-contractor and if there was anything good coming to us it was from Apple and not our sub contractor.
The only thing I can relate to is the toilet situation. For some reason Apple has offices that can accommodate 100s of staff with literally 3 toilet cubicles to go around. The toilet door is like a conveyor belt and I often have to go several times until I can find an empty cubicle. Whoever designed these offices severely underestimated the allocation of toilets.
Turns out this wasn't allowed by building codes, but I wouldn't be surprised if somehow this "spirit" made it's way to Apple as well.
Although I've had the same problem in every male dominated tech company office I've worked in. A few years back Amazon had to have people work from home because there weren't enough bathrooms in their office.
(Hiring approximately equal numbers of male and female employees would also fix it, but that's a difficult hiring and pipeline problem, and gender-neutral bathrooms are created by new signage.)
Not quite. People tend to expect more privacy in gender neutral bathrooms. This is a particular problem in America where toilet stalls are built to minimize privacy. Banks of urinals don't really work either.
In general, I think it's very unlikely that gender neutral bathrooms (beyond single stall bathrooms) are going to be accepted wide scale in the near future. If there is some kind of legislation or regulation that makes them necessary or desired I think it's going to move towards multiple small single rooms setup like the multiple rooms in portable toilet trailers.
You don't mind them in a separate room nearby? Or you don't mind them inside the gender neutral bathroom?
My least favorite job was at an investment bank where men outnumbered women 100:1. Urinals were always clogged with garbage, toilets were left unflushed, and sinks regularly filled up with human waste.
ok but did you meet the real-world ones?
"I don't understand the question."
But how does it come about that companies have both direct employees and contractors carrying out identical tasks in their core business? In the valley, this question amounts to: how does it come about that companies have both direct employed and contractor devs? What is it about the developers that causes them to land on one track rather than another; what is it about the products that companies are building that causes them to decide to staff one with direct employees and another with contractors?
Does anyone have some insight into this? This is the part of the contractors in the valley story that strikes me as really weird---the market rate for a package of skills in a firm ought to be more consistent than it it seems to be given the contractor/direct thing.
It's not uncommon to have more work in a given area than you have employees to do that work. So, you hire contractors to fill in.
But are contractors allowed to do all the things that employees can do? If not, then you've just created a whole new series of problems for yourself.
Been there, done that. On both sides of the fence, multiple times.
This sounds like poor oversight (and policy) on the apple side however - and apple should be making sure that all employees are treated well - and contractors are employees, just indirect ones.
most employees across the country are at-will, do people not know this?
> The restrictions were just one of many reminders of the contractors’ inferior status, right down to the apple design on their ID badges. For direct employees, the apples were multi-colored; contractors got what one described as “sad grey.”
Really? Really? Even Bloomberg knows how much of BS this is:
> It’s common for companies to distribute different badges to contractors
The worst was when I was a government civilian, working in the Pentagon, and I had a security clearance. The badges made it very clear who had what level of security clearance, and that governed where they could go and what they could do.
But at least the US Government had a pretty good reason for the way they treated people in that way.
Oh the horror! Somebody alert OSHA. Come on Bloomberg, I know outrage stories generate the most clicks and profit for
you, but this is getting absurd.
I feel that music and art could bear lifetimes of study without getting boring as well, but I might just be a slow learner.