After hearing all about the horrible working conditions it takes to make our electronics at Foxconn, Mother Jones' Mac McClelland shows us what it takes to ship those products. It sounds pretty awful. And not just by American standards, but, in comparison to what happens in China, a developing nation without our fancy American worker protections. McClelland spent a short time as a temp worker in a shipping warehouse called Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide, during the busy Christmas season. After days of back-ache inducing labor, she confirms a scary reality happening right here in the good ole U.S. of A. But is it worse than Foxconn? Let's see:
China: The Foxconn employees work 12 hour shifts with two one hour breaks.
America: The standard shift is 8 hours, but "working more than eight hours is mandatory," explains McClelland, who ends up working 12 hour days during peak season. During that day she gets two fifteen minute breaks, as well as a 29 minute and 59 second lunch break. McClelland often took these precious seconds for anxiety filled pee breaks, she explains.
We lose more time if we want to pee—and I do want to pee, and when amid the panic about the time constraints it occurs to me that I don't have my period I toss a fist victoriously into the air—between the actual peeing and the waiting in line to pee in the nearest one of the two bathrooms, which has eight stalls in the ladies' and I'm not sure how many in the men's and serves thousands of people a day.
China: After the most recent raise, our Foxconn workers get $285 per month, which comes out to about $10 per day.
America: Though she got hired at "elevensomething dollars an hour" McClelland says she will make $60 in her 10.5 hour day, which comes out to about $5.71 an hour. That's about $1.50 dollars less than both the Federal and Mississippi minimum wages. Her plight isn't unique either, according to this stat she dug up: "The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that more than 15 percent of pickers, packers, movers, and unloaders are temps. They make $3 less an hour on average than permanent workers," she writes.
China: One Chinese worker told CNN that turnover at the factory is high due to dissatisfaction and that those who speak out are dismissed.
America: Criers get sacked. "Well, what if I do start crying?" McClelland asked a seasoned worker. "Are they really going to fire me for that?" "Yes," she says. "There's 16 other people who want your job. Why would they keep a person who gets emotional, especially in this economy?" And those who manage to perform don't have much of a chance of promotion, workers stay temporary for years.
China: After months on the line, even young workers complain of permanent physical damage.
America: Here's what McClelland learned during training: "People lose fingers. Or parts of fingers. And about once a year, they tell us, someone in an Amalgamated warehouse gets caught by the hair, and when a conveyor belt catches you by the hair, it doesn't just take your hair with it. It rips out a piece of scalp as well."
China: The mind-numbing labor has led to mass suicides, encouraging Foxconn to implement a counseling center for troubled workers.
America: "Is somebody going to be mean to me or something?" McClelland asked a woman at the local chamber of commerce. "Oh, yeah," the woman responded.
China: The Fair Labor Association called the plant pristine, much better than other factories in China. Yet, the work entails 12 hours of the same action, over and over. The job is solitary and silent, besides the machinery.
America: Less dull than Foxconn labor; more physically exhausting. "I have been hired as a picker, which means my job is to find, scan, place in a plastic tote, and send away via conveyor whatever item within the multiple stories of this several-hundred-thousand-square-foot warehouse my scanner tells me to," explains McClelland.
Justification for the Job
China: Many flock to these jobs because it's better than the options elsewhere. Some argue that this type of work has improved the entire country's quality of life.
America: The American job market isn't great, people will take what they can get. "'How's the job market?' a supervisor says, laughing, as several of us newbies run by. 'Just kidding!' Ha ha! 'I know why you guys are here. That's why I'm here, too!'"
China: Apple and other large electronics manufacturers work with Foxconn, who gets the responsibility for what goes on at the giant plants.
America: A similar tiered setup happens at these warehouses, explains McClelland. "Indeed, and I'm working for a gigantic, immensely profitable company. Or for the staffing company that works for that company, anyway," she writes.
America: "This is America?" a friend asked McClelland. Yup.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.