Zoë Schiffer, the Verge:
A week after The Verge published the García Martínez letter, a group of Muslim employees at Apple penned a note calling for the company to release a statement in support of Palestine. When Tim Cook didn’t respond, the letter was leaked to The Verge.
It is interesting to me that these letters, and another about Apple’s back-to-office plan, were leaked specifically to the Verge. They were not sent to a labour reporter at the more aggressive Vice, or to a business publication like Bloomberg. Curious.
The two letters, and their leaks, are signs of a slow cultural shift at Apple. Employees, once tight-lipped about internal problems, are now joining a wave of public dissent that’s roiling Silicon Valley. Employees say this is partly because Apple’s typical avenues for reporting don’t work for big cultural issues. They also note the company rolled out Slack in 2019, allowing workers to find and organize with one another.
Public organizing, particularly on social media, has been enormously successful in Silicon Valley, allowing workers to wrestle power away from management. At Google, it’s led the company to end forced arbitration for all full-time employees. At Amazon, it’s spawned massive unionizing campaigns. Now, it seems to be Apple’s turn. “Suddenly at Apple, as everywhere else, managers can only stand back and watch as workers reshape the bounds of what will be permitted at work,” wrote Casey Newton, founder and editor of Platformer.
The Google and Amazon examples Schiffer cites were both truly organized in public and on social media. But all three Apple letters — so far — are ostensibly for internal audiences only, though that façade is crumbling.
I have to wonder if this recent spate of letters has actually made a difference. The one asking for a reconsideration of hiring policies cost Antonio García Martínez a job, but it is unclear whether there have been any changes to recruiting or interviewing. Apple and its leadership did not post any statements in defense of Palestine, either.
While it is too soon to know whether there will be any changes to Apple’s plan to bring employees back to the office for 60% or more of a workweek, I do not imagine this will make a dent. I know that some people will find this a bummer — the past year has proved that many people can do many jobs without being anywhere near an office. But many people were hired at Apple with the understanding that they would be working at the company’s buildings. This is not a case of Apple reducing the amount of time working from home; it is an increase from being required to be in the office full-time. This pandemic has been difficult and traumatic, but it is not a permanent state. I do not think it is realistic to expect everything to go back to the way it was before this pandemic, but it is equally unlikely that our generally rich and privileged lives will be unrecognizable because of it.
I hope this does not come across as indifferent. Many people have lost family and friends to this pandemic, and countless more have been impacted in ways little and large — including me.
Steven Aquino says that Apple has long been accommodating for people with disabilities. I have also heard several stories of Apple being surprisingly flexible for people who cannot work in Cupertino. That is clearly not the case for all people who wish to work remotely, but there are satellite Apple offices in dozens of cities that you would not immediately think of. Employees are, however, working in offices.
Apple’s arrangement is limiting, as are most jobs. There are plenty of companies that I would love to work for that would require me to relocate, and that is frustrating but fine. There are also many remote positions I could consider at other companies if I were looking for another job and wanted to work from home. If these requirements mean that Apple begins to bleed too much talent to more remote-friendly companies, it will no doubt adjust its policies. For now, so long as it is safe, this is entirely what I expected — and, I think, what most people should have anticipated.