Apple store workers near Baltimore voted for a union June 18. They became the first organized store in the U.S. in a landmark decision that could change the tech giant’s retail operation.
As of 8:30 p.m., 65 workers who voted at the Towson, Maryland, store had sided with the union, outnumbering anti-union votes 2 to 1. The bargaining unit includes about 100 workers and is affiliated with the International Association of Machinists.
The decision could spark a wider unionization movement among Apple store workers. A similar Starbucks union vote last year has since prompted nearly 300 other stores to file for elections.
The union victory is likely to breathe new life into the labor movement’s mission to organize Apple and the wider tech sector, which suffered a setback after a store in Atlanta canceled its election last month. Those workers, which the Communications Workers of America organized, blamed an alleged Apple union-busting campaign and said it planned to re-file for an election later.
Apple Inc. ranks No. 3 in Digital Commerce 360’s database of Top 1000 e-retailers. It ranks e-retailers based on web sales.
Apple union getting calls from ‘all over the country’
The labor group that helped orchestrate the first successful unionization campaign at an Apple Inc. store said it’s eager to begin negotiating with the company. It looks to build on the breakthrough elsewhere.
“The biggest thing for us to do now is to get Apple to the table and talk to them about who we are and what we want for our union members,” said David Sullivan. Sullivan is a general vice president at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which prevailed in a union vote last weekend at a store in Towson, Maryland.
He declined to discuss specific plans for additional stores. But he said the union has a “complete strategic plan” in place. “We’ve received phone calls from all over the country,” he said.
In a vote the National Labor Relations Board announced, employees in Towson voted to join the IAM by a roughly 2-to-1 margin. The bargaining unit, calling itself the Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, or CORE, includes about 100 workers.
President Joe Biden applauded the move.
“Workers have a right to determine under what conditions they are gonna work or not work,” President Biden said.
The outcome represents a breakthrough for labor activists, who had struggled to make inroads at Apple. Meanwhile, an Amazon.com Inc. labor group had a successful vote at a warehouse in New York’s Staten Island. But it then failed to win a second vote at a nearby facility.
Just last month, a separate labor group trying to organize employees at an Apple store in Atlanta withdrew its request for an election, citing what it alleged were illegal union-busting tactics by the company. That organization, the Communications Workers of America, said it took the step “because Apple’s repeated violations of the National Labor Relations Act have made a free and fair election impossible.”
In complaints filed with the NLRB, the CWA accused Apple of violating federal labor law. The CWA alleges Apple forced workers in Atlanta and New York City to attend “captive audience” meetings about unionization. Employees at the Towson store also have complained about such meetings, as well as a video message from Apple’s retail chief that cast unionizing in a negative light.
The executive, Deirdre O’Brien, told employees she was worried about “what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship.”
“We have a relationship that is based on an open and collaborative and direct engagement,” O’Brien said in the video.
Apple has boosted worker pay and benefits in the months since employees first announced organizing efforts. The company increased hourly wages for retail staff to at least $22 per hour, up from a previous $20 minimum. It also agreed to make work schedules more flexible, addressing a source of tension for employees.
In addition, Apple doubled the number of paid sick days, increased vacation time and expanded backup care for children.
Towson employees’ response
The IAM’s Sullivan said he is confident the NLRB will certify the Towson vote. Once that happens, Apple and the union can begin negotiating a contract. The company, based in Cupertino, California, didn’t have an immediate comment.
A More Perfect Union, a social welfare nonprofit, produced a video ahead of the vote. In it, employees from the Towson store called Apple’s anti-union campaign “nasty.”
The company’s messaging included management telling workers that the IAM once prohibited Black employees from joining its ranks, they said.
A key issue is whether Apple crossed a line by pushing back against unionization. Workers in the video complained about managers holding meetings that they described as “union busting.”
Existing precedent allows companies to hold such meetings. But the NLRB’s current general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, views them as inherently coercive and illegal. She is pursuing cases that could change the precedent.
Abruzzo, a former CWA attorney, also is trying to resurrect an old doctrine. It would require employers to negotiate with a labor group if they have no “good faith doubt” that most employees support the union.
“Apple’s messaging didn’t work in Maryland,” the IAM’s Sullivan said. “We hope other workers across the country will see that they can stand up for themselves.”
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