The demigods of Silicon Valley like to present themselves as miracle workers, able to create electronic wonders (and wondrous profits) from nothing but their vaunted imaginations and entrepreneurial prowess.

Well, yes. But there’s another part to that program: their routine exploitation of workers.

From the disgraceful use of sweatshop labor abroad to wage theft at home, a key component of the Silicon Valley business plan is to squeeze money from their workers. Such is the price of “miracles.”

Silicon Valley Worker Abuse


A particularly crass example of this profiteering came to light in October, when a multimillion-dollar, multinational digital printing outfit named Electronics for Imaging was nabbed for a jaw-dropping act of wage theft.

EFI executives had flown in eight IT workers from Bangalore, India to Silicon Valley to help install the corporation’s computer system in its new headquarters.

Here comes the jaw-dropper: EFI tried to get away with paying those workers what they would’ve made in India — $1.21 an hour — rather than paying California’s $8-an-hour minimum wage or more. Furthermore, they worked up to 122 hours a week — that’s 17 hours a day — with no overtime.

And get this: EFI even paid them in Indian rupees rather than U.S. dollars.

Thanks to an anonymous tip, the Labor Department has now convicted EFI of gross labor law violations, forcing the company to pay back the wages it stole. Yet CEO Guy Gecht — who raked in a $6-million paycheck as he ripped off these imported people — offered no apology.

EFI said it “unintentionally overlooked” U.S. wage law, dismissing its monstrous wage theft as an “administrative error.”

No way. It was a failure of moral character.

But since EFI was fined only $3,500 after paying the back wages, Silicon Valley will surely see this wrist slap as an endorsement of its prevailing ethic of labor exploitation.

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Jim Hightower

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

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