FORTUNE -- The first paragraph of the commentary posted Wednesday on the website of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank founded by, among others, Clinton-era labor secretary Robert Reich, lays out the thrust of the argument pretty succinctly:
"For more than a year, there has been a high-profile debate over what Apple should do with its enormous cash reserve, now amounting to $137 billion. The proposals have been curiously one-dimensional, with a nearly exclusive focus on how the reserves should be used to reward its shareholders. Almost entirely absent from the discussion has been whether those reserves should also be used to provide fairer compensation to the workers making its products abroad or selling its products here. This imbalance is part and parcel of a larger trend: the share of economic rewards going to workers is diminishing."
It's not an idea many Apple (AAPL) investors are going to want to hear, especially with the stock down more than 36% from last September's highs. But as author Isaac Shapiro points out, long-term shareholders have nothing to complain about. Those who stuck with the company over the past five years have seen the value of their investments grow more than three-fold.
Less amply rewarded are the 30,000 Apple Store employees who make as little as $25,000 a year. Or the roughly 1 million Asian contract workers who take home, before overtime, between $225 and $288 per month.
Shapiro doesn't diminish the work Apple has done to raise pay scales and improve working conditions in its Asian supply chain. Nor does he suggest that Apple's competitors are doing better.
But he does point out that some of the pledges Apple made have not been fulfilled.
For example, in March 2012 Apple promised that workers assembling Apple's devices in Foxconn's factories would be compensated for hours they had worked in the past that had not been paid for, including pre- and post-shift meetings, time spent in mandatory trainings, and as many as 30 minutes of "unscheduled overtime" on any given day.
According to Shapiro, none of that back pay was ever issued, and it appears that none is forthcoming.
[UPDATE: Several readers questioned this section, so I followed up with the Fair Labor Association, under whose auspices the back pay issue was investigated. According to the FLA, the unscheduled overtime issue affected only one worker, and it turned out he hadn't filled out his time card. On the other issues -- mandatory training and pre- and post-shift meetings -- the FLA determined that it was a problem. The remedy proposed was for Samsung to change its practices and pay its workers for the such time going forward. No back pay was issued.]
He's got more examples, laid out fairly dispassionately, in $45+ billion for Apple shareholders, nothing yet for Apple workers.
As I say, it's probably the last thing Apple investors want to hear on yet another down day for the stock, but it does put those demands for bigger dividends and multibillion dollar stock buybacks in some perspective.
How special are Apple Inc.'s retail outlets?
FORTUNE -- "I don't have very many bad days," Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook told the audience at Goldman Sachs' technology conference Tuesday. "But if I ever feel that I'm dropping down from an excited level, I go and visit a store. It's like a Prozac."
Cook's point was that Apple's retail outlets are not like ordinary stores. "I'm not even sure 'store' is the right MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Feb 13, 2013 8:17 AM ET
Ship times hit 2 weeks Tuesday and a spot check found it at 9 out of 10 of Apple stores
FORTUNE -- Despite stock-outs, production hiccups and Foxconn worker unrest, it looks like Apple (AAPL) will have an iPhone 5 available to sell to anyone who wants one this Christmas.
In a note to clients Wednesday, Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster reports that his nightly checks of supplies at 100 Apple Stores showed MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Nov 21, 2012 8:00 AM ET
But the $45 dollars the average Apple Store customer spends each visit is the least of it
FORTUNE -- It is likely that there is no retail outlet in the world that generates as much cash per square foot than an Apple Store.
That's certainly true of the U.S., according to the latest top 10 list from Retail Sails, which ranks U.S. chain stores by their productivity (see chart at right).
Apple (AAPL) MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Nov 13, 2012 7:12 AM ET
Was this the reason, Jean-Louis Gassée asks half seriously, John Browett was fired?
FORTUNE -- In a well-argued memo to management written by a friend of Apple (and former head of advanced product development and worldwide marketing), Jean-Louis Gassée devotes this week's Monday Note to the blaring problem with the company's new flagship store in Palo Alto that some are calling a prototype for future venues:
IT'S WAY TOO LOUD!
Louder, he points out, MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Nov 11, 2012 7:04 PM ET
Thinking about going into Manhattan to visit an Apple Store? Forgetaboutit!
FORTUNE -- I probably won't make it to Apple's (AAPL) flagship Fifth Avenue store Friday for the launch of the iPad mini.
Me and a lot of other people.
Three days after Hurricane Sandy swamped much the U.S. eastern seaboard, there is no power in New York City below 34th Street, no direct subway trains to Manhattan from Brooklyn and Queens, no MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Nov 1, 2012 10:39 AM ET
In a reprise of Steve Jobs' celebrated 2007 visit, Tim Cook stops by to check it out
FORTUNE -- I've got three videos for you today:
IDG's 2 minute report on Apple's (AAPL) new store in Palo Alto, which opened Saturday
A 3-minute video of the crowd greeting CEO Tim Cook when he paid a visit
An oft-reposted 2007 video of Steve Jobs visiting the store that this one replaced
The shift in emphasis from service to profits comes from the top, say insiders
FORTUNE -- After Apple (AAPL) public relations released a statement calling staffing cutbacks at its Apple Stores a "mistake" that was being reversed, many thought that John Browett's days at the company might be numbered.
Browett is the Wharton MBA who was brought in from the giant British electronics chain Dixons to run Apple's retail operations after their MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Aug 29, 2012 6:24 AM ET
Company acknowledges "mistake" as planned cutbacks are reversed
Daring Fireball's John Gruber likened it to the most vicious dressing down of a sales staff in American film history -- Alec Baldwin's tirade in Glengarry Glen Ross. The Loop's Jim Dalrymple called it "one of the worst decisions" Apple (AAPL) had made in a decade. "This has the stench," Dalrymple wrote, "of a man looking to make a name for himself."
When two bloggers who MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Aug 17, 2012 8:28 AM ET
The "Genius" spots may have targeted older users, but that doesn't make them good
FORTUNE -- According to a YouGov BrandIndex survey released Friday, Apple's "fans" have gotten older -- a demographic shift the firm suggests may have been the company's motivation for releasing the three "Genius" ads that got so roundly panned when they aired in prime time during NBC's Olympics coverage.
YouGov's evidence: The "Buzz" chart above, which shows positive MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Aug 10, 2012 12:00 PM ET
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