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Apple's iPhone touchscreen supplier faces violent employee strike

More than 2,000 workers at a Wintek Corp. factory in Suzhou, China, have gone on strike and destroyed equipment at their factory, potentially straining the supply of parts for Apple's iPhone.

According to China Daily, factory workers last week damaged equipment and vehicles in response to a number of alleged deaths from overexposure to toxic chemicals. Employees said they did not accept the local government's investigation into the matter. Bloomberg reported that the factory is a component supplier for the iPhone.

On Friday, workers gathered in the morning and caused damage at the Suzhou Industrial Park. They also blocked off a road and threw rocks at police, though no casualties were reported.

Various reports said that the workers were reacting to rumors of a canceled 2009 bonus, but one worker told China Daily the matter was not solely about money.

"What we feel angry about is the company authorities' apathy to our workers' health," said a worker named Zhu. He also added that employees have been overworked and underpaid.

Employees said there was a strong smell at the factory that they believe caused the deaths of four workers. One man, Li Liang, was found to have died of congenital heart disease — a diagnosis his co-workers do not believe.

The employees believe the deaths are attributed to an overexposure to hexane, a toxic chemical used to clean touchscreen panels at the factory. Hexane can cause nervous system failure in humans.

Apple's overseas manufacturing partners have been the subject of much scrutiny over the years. Last July, an audit of Apple's partners in mainland China found that 45 of 83 factories that built iPhones and iPods in 2008 weren't paying valid overtime rates for those workers that qualified. In addition, 23 of those factories weren't even paying some of their workers China's minimum wage.

Last summer, Apple and manufacturing partner Foxconn made headlines after an alleged prototype 4G iPhone went missing from one of the company's factories. After an employee was questioned about the matter, he reportedly committed suicide.

In 2006, Apple audited Foxconn over the working conditions at its Chinese factories, after reports surfaced in a British newspaper about poor working conditions. The Cupertino, Calif., company issued a report on iPod manufacturing, which found no instances of forced overtime, but did find that some employees worked longer than the 60-hour weekly maximum.