Apple Store employees tell Tim Cook: We're treated like 'criminals'

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An Apple Store employee told Tim Cook that the company treats its staff like "criminals."

That's according to a recently unsealed e-mail that is part of a lawsuit filed against Apple (AAPL) in 2013. The suit, filed in federal court in California, alleges that Apple Store employees were not paid wages for time spent waiting while managers checked the workers' personal bags for stolen iGizmos before they left the store.

In an e-mail sent on April 2, 2012, with the subject line "Fearless Feedback from Apple Retail Specialist," an unnamed employee told Cook that the bag check policies are "both insulting and demeaning to Apple employees."

The employee said Apple Store employees are issued a card with the serial numbers of all their personal Apple devices. Managers ask employees to present their iPhones and cards when they leave, and then they perform a bag check -- often in front of "gawking customers."

"These procedures imply that Apple doesn't trust or respect their employees," the person wrote. "Managers are required to treat 'valued' employees as criminals."

When Cook received the e-mail from the Apple Store employee, he forwarded it to the executives in charge of retail and HR, asking, "Is this true?"

The court did not unseal Cook's reply to the Apple Store employee's email or the executive team's response to Cook.

In another email to Cook, sent on January 28, 2013, a Beijing Apple Store employee said, "Apple treats employees as animals." The unnamed employee noted that the Xidan Joy City Apple Store in China's capital city has an emergency exit that's blocked by Apple products.

The person also complained about the bag check policy in the email.

Related: Apple's store headache

After being forwarded the email from Cook, HR chief Denise Young Smith wrote to Apple's strategies head Carol Monkowski that the company should think about changing its policy.

"I don't like that practice either, but I do understand why they believe it's necessary," Young wrote. "I'd like to explore other options, i.e, random checks like TSA. If it is simply a deterrent, there has to be a more intelligent and respectful way to approach."

Smith proposed suspending the policy for three to six months and to track how many more products were stolen during that time period.

Montkowski replied that a review of the store's practices seemed prudent

Apple still performs bag checks, but it's unclear if Apple ever actually changed its official policy. An Apple spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

In the lawsuit, two former Apple store employees claim that the bag checks were performed after clocking out. Some days the wait was longer than five or ten minutes, which added up to $1,500 in unpaid wages per year for one worker. Apple Store employees typically make between $12 and $18 per hour.

Apple also faces a separate class action lawsuit from retail employees who say they were denied meal breaks and rest periods in violation of California labor law. Among other things, the lawsuit claims Apple employees were forced to work for stretches of five hours or more without meals, and they didn't get breaks on shorter shifts.

As part of that lawsuit, the Apple Store employees complained that the company restricts them from talking about Apple's labor conditions with one another, allowing the company to "invoke fear into the class members that if they so much as discuss the various labor policies, they run the risk of being fired, sued or disciplined."

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