Apple's MLK Day honors stir controversy

apple martin luther king day
A petition says Apple workers should have the day off today.

Tim Cook has a framed picture of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the wall in his office.

The Apple (AAPL) CEO shared that detail last year when he came out as gay. Cook wrote in a landmark op-ed that he was inspired by King's words on public service: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'

This belief appears to be reflected in Apple's policy for employees on Martin Luther King Day.

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Unlike many other big tech firms, Apple does not give its employees a paid vacation day on Monday's federal holiday, which is also known as the MLK Day of Service.

Instead, the company has doubled the amount of money it donates to charity for employees who choose to volunteer.

For every hour of community service an employee does, Apple will donate $50 to charity, up from its normal $25 match. The policy is in effect for the entire first quarter and applies to all employees, including Apple Store workers.

"There is no greater way to celebrate [King's] legacy than to serve the communities where we live and work," wrote Denise Young Smith, head human resources at Apple, in a memo obtained by the San Jose Mercury News.

Still, critics say Apple should give employees the day off.

A petition asking Apple to give employees Martin Luther King Day off has received nearly 200 signatures.

The petition on Coworker.org says Apple's policy does not go far enough, especially considering that the iPhone maker has used King's image in its advertising.

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Like most big Silicon Valley companies, Apple's workforce is overwhelmingly male and predominately white.

"While Apple has generous vacation policies in many ways, as a leader in this area, Apple can surely participate in this important historic holiday as well," writes Aimée Castenell, the activist who started the petition, on Coworker.org. "By joining other companies in observing MLK Day, Apple will demonstrate its commitment to a diverse staff and customer base and to the achievements of the civil rights movement."

A spokeswoman said Apple would not comment on the petition.

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