Apple’s retail chief pushes back on unionization in video to staff

Apple Inc. is raising salaries for workers in the U.S. 10% or more as it faces a tight labor market and the spread of unionization efforts across its retail stores.

The Cupertino, California-based company is expanding its overall compensation budget this year, it said in a statement Wednesday. It will hike minimum hourly pay for its staff to at least $22, up 10% on last year. The move follows a pay bump in February after inflation woes and complaints from staffers about working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Apple ranks No. 3 in the Top 1000 Database, Digital Commerce 360’s ranking of North American retailers by online sales.

Apple is now accelerating its annual performance-based pay increases for retail and corporate team members by three months, according to an email to employees. The company is contending with unionization efforts in several parts of the U.S., including Georgia, Maryland, New York and Kentucky. In a recent video message to employees, Apple’s retail chief warned “We have a relationship that is based on an open and collaborative and direct engagement,” and “I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship.”

Companies often announce improvements while battling unionization campaigns, and by doing so may interfere with employees’ free choice, Seattle University labor law professor Charlotte Garden said in an email. “The risk is that workers perceive that keeping the improvements is contingent on voting against union representation, and that if they vote for the union, the company will play hardball.”

U.S. tech companies are battling a shortage of talent after many chose flexible options or left the workforce during the pandemic. Software maker Microsoft Corp. is among those spending more aggressively to stay competitive, planning to nearly double its budget for salary increases this year in an effort to retain employees.

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Inflation is also playing a role in driving up pay expectations, with U.S. consumer prices rising an annual 8.3% in April, according to government data released Wednesday.

Apple has approximately 154,000 full-time or equivalent employees, according to regulatory filings. Its starting wage is comfortably above the US nationwide minimum, which has been $7.25 since 2009. New York City’s is $15. Like other leading tech firms, the company has so far operated without a formal worker organization. However, successful moves to unionize at a New York Amazon.com Inc. warehouse and Starbucks Corp. cafes across the country have given impetus to new campaigns.

Apple’s retail chief pushes back on unionization in video to staff

Apple’s retail chief, pushing back on a campaign to unionize stores, told employees the effort could slow workplace progress. She said third-party labor groups don’t share the company’s commitment to employees.

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“It is your right to join a union — and it is equally your right not to join a union,” Deirdre O’Brien, senior vice president of retail and human resources since 2019, said in a video to employees. “And if you’re faced with that decision, I want to encourage you to consult a wide range of people and sources to make sure you understand what it could mean to work at Apple under a collective bargaining agreement.”

Apple, which has about 270 retail stores in the U.S., declined to comment. Earlier this month, Apple posted signs in break rooms within retail locations to reiterate its employee benefits while implying that some may disappear if stores become unionized.

O’Brien, a veteran Apple executive, said the relationship between the company and its retail employees could suffer if unions represent stores. She also implied the organizations may not be acting in workers’ best interests.

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“We have a relationship that is based on an open and collaborative and direct engagement, which I feel could fundamentally change if a store is represented by a union under a collective bargaining agreement,” she said. “And I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship. An organization that doesn’t have a deep understanding of Apple or our business, and most importantly, one that I do not believe shares our commitment to you.”

Over the past several months — after retail employees raised concerns about workplace conditions and benefits — Apple has increased pay, issued additional bonuses and expanded vacation time. O’Brien said implementing new changes could take longer under unions.

“I don’t know if we could have moved as quickly under a collective bargaining agreement as it could limit our ability to make immediate, widespread changes to improve your experience,” she said. “Because the union would bring its own legally mandated rules that would determine how we work through issues, it could make it harder for us to act swiftly to address things that you raise.”

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