The Multinational Monitor


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Rotten Apple

Protesting Apple's treatment of its janitorial workers, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) held a hunger strike in front of Apple Computer's corporate headquarters in Silicon Valley in November 1991. Supported by a large number of local and national organizations, the union has targeted Apple in its "Justice for Janitors" campaign.

Apple employs an outside company, Shine Building Maintenance, Inc., to clean its corporate headquarters in Silicon Valley. SEIU's Local 1877 says Shine hires mostly immigrant women and pays them below average wages with poor health benefits to work under unsafe and exploitative conditions.

Although the janitors actually work for Shine, the union is focusing its campaign against Apple, which it says has the largest non-union square footage of building space in Silicon Valley. Jon Barton, Local 1877's organizing director, argues that Apple, which Working Mother magazine named one of the top "family friendly" corporations in the United States, "should not only be progressive and enlightened when looking at its own employees--who in this area are mostly white professional and skilled employees--but [should allow] that philosophy to trickle down to even those that it contracts with--workers who are almost solely Latino and Asian women immigrant workers."

Shine and Apple both deny the union's allegations. "Apple has always tried to gain a good environment for our employees, and we expect the same from our vendors," Apple spokesperson Cindy McCafferty says. "What we understand, and we've looked into the union's allegations, is that [Shine's] wages and benefits are competitive."

Sexism at Stroh's

Sexist advertisements for Stroh's Brewing Company beers contributed to a hostile and demeaning work atmosphere at Stroh's St. Paul, Minnesota brewery, five brewery workers allege in a lawsuit filed last month. The lawsuit is the first to charge that a company's ads encouraged sexual harassment in the workplace.

The women who filed the suit allege they were subjected to a shocking array of verbal and physical abuse by their co-workers and superiors at the St. Paul brewery, where they work as machinists and bottlers. While the suit names a number of men who allegedly took part in the harassment, its sole defendant is Stroh's. In their lawsuit, the women specifically cite Stroh's "Swedish Bikini Team" ads, in which a team of scantily clad women parachute to a campfire carrying beer for a group of men.

"The Swedish bikini ads portray women as giggling, jiggling idiots who have large breasts and small minds," argues Lori C. Peterson, the workers' attorney. "Stroh's is promoting an attitude about women, and the employees are imitating it in the workplace."

George Kuehn, Stroh's general counsel, denies the charges. "We believe there is absolutely no link between our advertising and the allegations regarding the workplace environment," he says.

Leasing the Law

General Motors Corp. (GM) and government prosecutors colluded in the mid-1980s to conduct sting operations against competitors of GM's Mr. Goodwrench service dealers. A number of GM's competitors were closed down because of the GM and government investigations, which were secretly paid for by GM.

GM's interest in working with regulators stemmed from a 1983 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission, under which the company agreed to reimburse millions of light truck and car owners for fixing defective GM transmissions. Under the agreement, consumers could take their cars to independent transmission shops and then be reimbursed for the costs.

According to a lawsuit filed in Michigan by an owner of a shop closed down following a Michigan/GM investigation, GM was retaliating for the advice and repair work that its competitors gave consumers. The shop's attorney, Martin Crandall, argues that the "genesis" of the allegations of fraud against the shops arose from GM's efforts to "stem costs arising from the consent decree and to channel transmission repair work to its own dealers who would presumably not publicize [and not advise consumers of] the consent decree."

A number of witnesses have testified in court that the investigative techniques used in Michigan were misleading and served to effectively entrap the shop mechanics, who were charged with cheating consumers by having them pay for unnecessary work.

Aside from Michigan, prosecutors in Florida and Maryland accepted GM's help and investigated independent shops. Amy Harmon, a Florida investigator who worked on the sting operation, says that she now disagrees with the idea of having a major corporation fund an investigation into direct competitors. "There is something inherently wrong with our office accepting GM's money," she says. "We were effectively cutting down on their competition by investigating and prosecuting their competition."

Both General Motors and the Michigan attorney general deny any impropriety and say the investigation was ethical.

- David Lapp

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