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Like many tech companies, Apple makes nearly all its computers and phones in China, using contract manufacturers like Pegatron. Leswing: Your dorm roommates aren't going to be the same people. They talk about the China-US relationship, foreign relations in the South China Sea, because at that point there is news on that.
That has recently become a contentious political issue, with President Donald Trump calling for Apple to bring manufacturing — and the jobs that come with it — back to the United States. Zeng: I made friends with my roommates and also my coworkers on the same assembly line, but it's like the station around me, so we're sitting together. And I also made some friends at the first couple of days, when we do some training. Zeng: No, we don't work on the same assembly or nearby, and sometimes we work on different shifts. Leswing: So when you were on the assembly line with you with your mates, what did you talk about? Most talk about movies, horror movies, and then sometimes they talk about their lives.
In March, Apple released its annual report looking at its manufacturing operations. And then, after awhile, you get more familiar to it, and that in the end, I can even do this screw by closing my eyes. So after that, you get a lot of time that you have nothing to do. Because in the Pegatron factories, any kind of electronic devices are not allowed to be inside the factories. You need to either download some apps for them or click something — comments or something — to earn some virtual coins. So is it you can buy coins — like I remember it's like 100 coins about 5 yuan, something like that. In that same platform that you earn coins, there are free videos still available. And they know other things, they even talk about American history sometimes. Zeng: So I would say we don't like it and we don't hate it. Nobody enjoys the process, because the purpose of getting to work is waiting to get out. Sometimes there are people walking around that don't allow you talk too loud. Is it a job that people go, "Oh, that's a decent way to earn a living"? People working the factories are also working on becoming a security guard, deliveryman, housekeeper. Because you need no skills, you just get into the factories. During the interview, you can just get in that day.
To see what the situation was like firsthand, Zeng went to work undercover in Pegatron's Chang Shuo factory last summer, armed with a fellowship from NYU. It makes you very tired, but it keeps your mind on it. It makes you very boring there because you can't listen to music. Zeng: If you are eating with your friends, sometimes you do. You go get your meal, and then you eat, because it's like if you can eat it faster, you get more sleep. Zeng: I would generally go have another meal afterward. So I think there's something good, that workers can watch videos for free. The only thing that we're thinking about is really money, money, money. Some workers have worked at different factories and think Pegatron has stricter management. So some workers have a comparison and think Pegatron has stricter controls. And then they take care of your meals and your dorm.
Leswing: You just came back from a 10-minute break. Zeng: After another two hours, we got a 50-minute break for lunch. If you have finished the meal earlier [than 50 minutes], you can take some sleep also. You can see that in the lounge — we have a lot of long sofas, but it's not really a very comfortable sofa. Zeng: It's not catching you sleeping — it's catching you laying. The same thing happens if you accidentally bring a phone into the factories. It's like when you're past the metal detectors and it sounds and you pulled out your phone. But we think that, at most, you can become a line manager.
Generally, there are vegetables, meats, and sometimes it's like buns or noodles — and then basically it's like three vegetables, one meat, with rice. Sometimes they have apples, pears, some fruits as additions to the meal. But there are people who could get promoted by that chain, but not a lot of people can sustain that kind of life for that long time.
Apple employees are on the ground at the Pegatron facility every day, an Apple spokesman told Business Insider. And then after August, we are working on i Phone 7. One station at the beginning I did fastening speaker to housing. They say, "Keep your voice low." Leswing: So when and where did you wake up every day? The dorm is not on the factory campus — it's in a place about 10 minutes drive, and they have a shuttle bus for us. The assembly line starts working at different times. It's always the neck or certain parts that you can't identify. But it keeps you full, and you're very hungry, so it keeps you full anyway. Leswing: And by this point, you've worked six hours. But generally, if you need to do overtime, it depends on if it's Monday to Thursday or it's Friday. So total, the time workers spent in the factory is 12 hours, generally including the breaking times and lunchtime. Sometimes there's no hot water or there's no water at all. people either go to internet cafe, play video games, watch videos, something like that, or you lay down, watch videos on your phone. You might earn some money, a little bit, and then gradually you can get your life together. Zeng: I don't think people really see it as a career. It's very normal for workers to leave after two weeks or a month.
Apple performed 16 audits at the Chang Shuo Pegatron factory, finding that 99% of workweeks were under 60 hours, with the average workweek for people assembling Apple products clocking in at 43 hours. What I did is that I put the speaker on the case, and I put a screw on it. I mean, it's simple, but that's the work that you do. At the beginning, I would have work on the night shift. Some coworkers start working at p.m., some workers at 8 p.m., some like p.m, some at p.m. Zeng: After two more hours — and about eight hours total — working, then it depends on whether you need to do overtime or not. Leswing: Does that also include you waiting in line to go through a metal detector and that kind of stuff? If you included those, you should include 30 minutes more. Some workers get there and if they don't like it, they quit very quick. And after one year, you can get promoted to become the line manager. At the lowest level, you're an operator, and then you get into the multitask worker [position].
Wages at Pegatron have increased more than 50% over the last five years, and they are higher than the Shanghai minimum wage, the spokesman said. Zeng, who plans to work at a Chinese human-rights nonprofit when he graduates, said he believed a strike was imminent at the Pegatron plant when he went to work there. The [i Phone] housing — we call it the back case — is moving on the assembly line, and that's when we pick it up, and now we get one screw from the screw feeder, and then we put it on the i Phone and then put it back, and it goes to next station. I started at p.m, so I take the shuttle bus at 7 p.m., and then we start getting to the factory about p.m. If they see you lay down, they will swipe the ID and take a record of it. And then they will publish it to your whole assembly line, so your manager would come and yell at you later. The third level is group leader, and then it's line manager.
Unlike many of those workers, Zeng did not need to do the job to earn a living.
He's a grad student at New York University, and he worked at the factory, owned by the contract manufacturing giant Pegatron, for his summer project.