As Tax Day looms, representatives of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have been quietly, but persistently, nudging Apple, a company infamous for tax avoidance, to pay up and on Thursday morning, five representatives showed up at the corner of 15th and Mission streets to make their demands.
“They have a staggering amount of cash in off-shore and out-of-state accounts, more than Google or other companies, and public resources that our members rely on — transit, public schools — are struggling,” said SEIU representative Alfredo Fletes. “We need to remind Apple that they impact these things too.”
For an hour this morning, Fletes and his colleagues politely handed out fliers and held signs detailing the scope in which they believe the tech company is avoiding its duties to California. According to SEIU, California loses $221 million in corporate tax because of Apple profits held in Nevada subsidies.
Recent years have seen increased international scrutiny for the Cupertino-based company with subsidies around the world. A Congressional inquiry last May found that Apple consistently avoids paying tens of billions of dollars in taxes by channeling money into off-shore subsidies. Recently, others have been writing about the cash that Apple and other tech companies are sitting on. A Moody’s report showed Apple with $158.8 billion in cash reserves.
According to Fletes, the tax avoidance also happens at a local level when the company sets up subsidies in Nevada, a state with a more favorable tax rate. “What we’re trying to show is the effect that these tax policies have on the Bay Area, their home-base,” said Fletes, who has demonstrated against Apple since Monday, with previous actions at 19th Avenue and 24th at Valencia. Thursday marked the fourth day in a row that SEIU members have made their tax demands at Apple shuttle stops.
Most of the Apple employees lining up for their ride south — about six buses stopped in the course of an hour — avoided conversation with the demonstrators, but the few that were willing to comment noted that Apple isn’t doing anything illegal or uncommon.
“What else is new?” said one Apple employee who would not give his name. “Welcome to America…I don’t know any corporation that doesn’t do this kind of thing.”
A tech employee who was waiting for another private shuttle at 15th and Mission said the tax loopholes were unfortunate and problematic but it wasn’t Apple’s fault they existed.
“I think it’s fair for every company to exploit what exists,” said the unnamed employee. “This is an issue that should be taken up with the federal government or the state of California.”
Fletes says that in the week SEIU has been demonstrating at Apple shuttle stops he’s heard a similar refrain about how Apple’s tax practices are entirely legal. “Yes, but is it ethical?” Fletes asked.
Last year’s Congressional hearings found more or less the same conclusion. While the scope of Apple’s tax avoidance is massive, the company essentially follows the law.
As April 15th approaches, a day in which millions of Americans, including Apple employees, write checks to their federal and state governments, local members of SEIU will keep demonstrating. They’re planning a larger action at the Apple store in Union Square on Tax Day.
“This is about being a responsible corporate citizen,” said Johntell Washington, an SEIU member who held a sign that suggested Apple’s annual avoidance of California taxes could fund Muni upgrades for three years. “They live in the Bay Area, it’s time for them to pay their share.”