Apple sure has learned a lot about (mis)treating labor from its recent Foxconn suicide-scandals and the company’s central role in the Techtopus wage-theft conspiracy. The company has banned construction companies building its new Bay Area campuses from hiring workers who have either been charged (but not convicted) of a felony, or who have been convicted and served time for a felony.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, complaints have been filed with the California Attorney General, Kamila Harris, after a number of construction workers were fired in January due to prior felony convictions.
Roughly 30 percent of Americans have a criminal record — arrest or conviction — that would show up in background checks, according to the US Department of Justice. The National Employment Law Center says that one in four California adults has either an arrest or conviction record.
Using background checks on construction workers to discriminate against those charged with or convicted of felonies is reportedly very rare in the construction industry, one of the industries that provide opportunities for ex-convicts to get back on their feet in life. Discrimination against ex-offenders is a major ongoing problem that exacerbates poverty, inequality and racism; in an incarceration-mad state like California, Apple’s policy imposed on construction companies it hires means worsening inequality and cycles of poverty for a problem that disproportionately affects people of color.
In 2012, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced a new crackdown on illegal employment discrimination against people with criminal records, which are only permitted depending on the nature of the job. The next year, the EEOC launched civil rights suits against BMW’s plant in South Carolina, and against Dollar General, for using criminal background checks to disproportionately discriminate against African-Americans.
As the Washington Post reported:
“The commission said BMW effectively fired 70 black employees with criminal histories from a facility in South Carolina, even though many had been there for years. One woman with 14 years under her belt was let go after a misdemeanor conviction surfaced that was more than 20 years old and carried a $ 137 fine, according to the EEOC’s lawsuit.”
Apple’s legally dubious hiring policy imposed on the two lead construction companies hired to build Apple’s new offices — Sweden’s Skanska, and Redwood City-based DPR Construction — comes as the company is playing progressive corporate leader in the pushback against Indiana’s anti-gay “religious liberty” laws. Apple is also trying to rewrite its dark past under Steve Jobs by releasing a new, Apple-authorized history of the company, “Becoming Steve Jobs.”
Last year, DPR Construction — one of the two firms abiding by Apple’s discriminatory ban on construction workers with records — was named by Fortune magazine the tenth best company in America to work for. Among DPR’s many perks: company wine bars, free use of company vacation homes, even free Friday breakfasts. DPR has contracted for Facebook, Pixar, Stanford, Genentech and other big-name firms.
Apple CEO Tim Cook might be doing a fine job pushing for equality of one sort in Indiana, but in his own Bay Area backyard, Apple’s latest labor policy seems designed to force many disadvantaged workers downwards, and the state’s labor practices backwards.