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NYU student who worked at an iPhone factory reveals it’s a thankless and low-paying job

by Danny Zepeda | April 11, 2017April 11, 2017 5:31 pm PDT

There has been a longstanding understanding that the factories where iPhones are made aren’t exactly the best environment to work in. Years ago there were allegations of child labor, and now, an NYU student who had a chance to work at the Pegatron factory building iPhones is revealing just how bad the job is.

New York University student Dejian Zeng spent last summer in China at the factory where iPhones are manufactured for a summer project. What he found out was that it’s just as bad as has been reported. In an interview with Business Insider, Zeng revealed details about his time there.

Workers are subjected to grueling schedules and strict security measures. The usual work day involves a 12-hour shift, but workers are only compensated for 10.5 hours due to unpaid breaks. Zeng reported that he only earned what amounts to $450 a month working at the factory. The grueling hours and minuscule pay leads to a high turnover rate. Some workers barely last two weeks before they leave the job.

Apple responded to an inquiry by Business Insider stating that Apple employees are on the ground to ensure that workers aren’t working more than 60 hours a week. They also noted that Pegatron has increased wages by 50 percent over the past five years and the figure is higher than the minimum wage in Shanghai.

Arriving on his first day at the job, Zeng was assigned to do was putting a sticker and adding a screw on the iPhone 6s. He described it as a “very boring” task, one that he performed over and over. One of the stricter policies is that workers are not allowed to take any electronic device inside the factory. When the workers go into work, they must pass through metal detectors to ensure they aren’t carrying any electronic devices inside. They also make sure the workers know the English alphabet.

“You show up in front of the factories and see a lot of people waiting in line with their luggage, divulged Zeng to Business Insider. “There’s two members of the staff sitting at a table with their computer. You just walk up to them and they ask you for your ID, they swipe it and record it in their computer, and then, later on, they ask for your hand. They look at your hands to see whether they are intact, and then they ask you to recite the English alphabet.”

While working at the factory, Zeng mentioned that the production switched over from the iPhone 6s to the iPhone 7. When this happened much more stringent security measures were put into place. Employees were required to go through two security checkpoints, and absolutely no metal can pass through the metal detectors—not even the underwire found in bras.

“The controls gets more strict. They increased the sensitivity of the metal detectors,” revealed Zeng. “So you know some girls, they have bras? And so they couldn’t pass the door because they had the metal in the bra. And so a lot of the girls had to change all of the sudden that day because they increased the sensitivity. And then you passed two security checks. There’s a lot of security checks.”

Apple employees are also on hand in the factory to ensure that no new problems arise with productions. Naturally, this heightens stress at the factory as the employees are forced to keep everything extra organized.

The employees who work on building iPhones think the devices are cool, but earning about $450 a month is nowhere near enough to purchase one of Apple’s devices. Instead, many of them use Oppo smartphones or other similar brands that are really popular in China.

The workers accept this fate because there’s not much they can do

Dejian Zeng originally opted to work at the factory because of a looming work strike he thought was going to happen because of wage cuts and the elimination of bonuses, but the strike never happened. At the end of the day, it’s a job and they need to feed their families. Zeng’s experience at the Pegatron factory colored his decision to pursue a career in humans right advocacy.

Dejian Zeng’s interview with Business Insider is quite interesting and worth a read.


Danny Zepeda

Born and raised in Southern California, Danny grew up on a steady diet Pixar, Star Wars and Steven Spielberg movies. Unbeknownst to him, this was...

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