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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Long-quiet Apple employees are beginning to speak their minds. In recent weeks they've talked publicly about experiences with harassment and discrimination, concerns about business decisions, and objections to policies that some feel open their personal lives to corporate scrutiny.

Why it matters: Employee activism has been on the rise across Silicon Valley, but until recently, Apple workers have largely avoided public criticism of their employer.

Driving the news:

  • A group of Apple workers are encouraging their colleagues to publicly discuss their experiences of harassment and discrimination as part of a budding "#appletoo" movement.
  • Other workers and former workers are speaking out about the company's insistence that employees give the company access to their personal iCloud accounts, as the Verge reported.
  • These movements come as Apple's workforce has grown significantly in recent years. Meanwhile, the adoption of Slack has given employees a chance to network and amplify dialogues and criticism of company policies, as a recent story in the Information outlined.

Between the lines: Apple has long stressed maintaining strict secrecy around new products, a value that Tim Cook has championed.

  • While employees generally support that, a growing number are pushing for a different approach to discussions of workplace problems or debates about business practices.
  • Recently workers have started to speak up about remote work and Apple's decision (later reversed) to hire controversial author Antonio García Martínez, as well as concerns about the security implications of Apple's move to scan iCloud photos for child sexual abuse material.

The big picture: The debate inside Apple is at a lower pitch and volume, but echoes similar conflicts within other tech giants, including Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft.

  • Google employees have spoken out loudly and frequently over everything from treatment of women to the company's military work. Thousands of workers have joined a union effort that seeks to give employees a louder voice on these and other issues.
  • Amazon employees have spoken out about climate concerns, among other issues, while warehouse workers in Alabama tried to unionize to increase their say in working conditions there.
  • Workers at Microsoft have also spoken up over its work with the U.S. military and immigration authorities. The company has been willing to take clear positions notwithstanding, vigorously defending its work with the U.S. government.
  • Amid the presidential election last year, several hundred Facebook workers signed a letter criticizing the decision to allow politicians to lie in paid ads without consequence.

Of note: It's also worth remembering just how much Apple has changed since Steve Jobs stepped down a decade ago.

  • Under Jobs, there was essentially no organized dissent. Employees either agreed with the way he ran the company, quietly acquiesced or left.
  • At 160,000 employees and with stores across the country and corporate offices in a number of cities, today's Apple is vastly larger and more spread out, including a significant number of employees who have never set foot in an Apple office due to the pandemic.

What to watch: The big question is whether Apple's secretive culture can bend to accommodate some additional discussion — or must fundamentally shift to keep up with its workforce's evolving views.

  • While Apple has thrived under its current structure, like other big tech companies, it is sensitive to any conflicts that could impact recruiting and retention in what remains a tight market for talent, especially in key areas such as AI and machine learning.

Go deeper: Big Tech workers call out their companies

Go deeper

Nathan Bomey, author of Closer
Dec 8, 2021 - Economy & Business

Remote pay cuts likely to vanish in 2022

Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Pay cuts for remote workers who move to less expensive areas: We hardly knew ye.

Why it matters: Because of the scramble for top employees, the local cost of living may become less of a factor in setting wages.

Dec 7, 2021 - Podcasts

The union fights plaguing media companies

The New York Times, Buzzfeed and Gannett all find themselves embroiled in very public union fights with their employees.

Host Felix Salmon is joined by Axios media reporter Sara Fischer to discuss what we know about the labor disputes at these three companies and what they tell us about broader tensions between employees and management in the workforce.

Updated 12 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker