Blow to Apple Anti-Unionising Mission: Maryland Store Forms Union
In another historic success in the unionising movement sweeping American retailers, tech companies and restaurants, employees of an Apple store in Towson, Maryland, voted to form the tech titan’s first retail union called the Apple Coalition of Organised Retail Employees in the United States on Saturday.
The employees passed the measure 65-33 with about a dozen abstentions, according to results announced by the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB), to demand a greater voice over wages and policies in the light of the pandemic, The New York Times (NYT) reported.
In a tweet, the Apple workers union said that the tech giant is “scared”. “Last night’s win for @Apple Towson will go down in history. Sadly, so will the leadership parroting scripted anti-union talking points in EVERY. SINGLE. STORE. this morning. They’re scared. Let’s keep it that way.”
The Apple union had penned an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook in May writing that its unionising efforts were “about us as workers gaining access to rights that we do not currently have” but it didn’t want “go against or create conflict with our management”.
“Compensation is important considering the cost of living in general and inflation but the bigger thing is having a say. That was the most important thing to me,” Christie Pridgen, a technical expert employed at the store for more than eight years and one of the organisers of the movement, told CNN Business.
Highlighting the main demands like having a say in hours and scheduling and being involved in establishing safety protocols during the pandemic, Pridgen said, “We wanted a say in the policies that affect our lives. I knew I wasn’t alone in being frustrated.”
Tyra Reeder, a technical specialist with the Towson store for more than six months, told NYT that she was “elated” with the voting result and hoped a union would help increase the compensation of workers, stabilise the store’s scheduling, which has been strained by recent COVID-19 cases, and make it easier for workers to advance within the company. “We love our jobs. We just want to see them do better,” she said.
Robert Martinez Jr, president, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, one of the largest and trade unions in the US representing about 600,000 active and retired members in the aerospace, defence, airlines, railroad, transit, health care, automotive and other industries that backed the Towson employees, tweeted: “That feeling when you form the first union at Apple in America. Congrats, @acoreunion! Welcome to the Machinists Union! #1u."
“I applaud the courage displayed by Core members at the Apple store in Towson for achieving this historic victory. They made a huge sacrifice for thousands of Apple employees across the nation who had all eyes on this election. This victory shows the growing demand for unions at Apple stores and different industries across our nation,” Martinez Jr said.
The Towson Town Centre, inside a mall near Baltimore, is among the 24-plus Apple stores out of the 270 in the US eager to unionise with one each in Atlanta and New York moving towards unionisation with a movement called #AppleToo sweeping the tech titan.
Apple, valued at around $2.1trillion, reported a record $97.3 billion in revenue in its second fiscal quarter, an increase of 9% from the same period last year.
“The people who we have the biggest relationship with, our store leaders, almost have little to no say in what affects the workers,” Onye Igwulu, a 24-year-old employee at the Towson store, told The Guardian earlier this month.
“We’re standing up to make a better life for ourselves and our family that we feel we deserve and I think all workers deserve. We love our work extremely, we just want to have a say in the things that affect us,” Igwulu added.
APPLE’S BID TO THWART UNIONISING
An Apple spokesperson refused to on the vote. “We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple. We are pleased to offer very strong compensation and benefits for full-time and part-time employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, annual stock grants and many other benefits,” the company said before the vote.
Apples claims to pay more than many other retailers and provides several benefits, including health care and stock grants. Last month, it increased starting wages for retail employees to $22 an hour, from $20.
According to news reports, Apple has hired a law firm known for its union expertise and wants its management teams to dissuade employees from unionising. In April, Motherboard released an audio recording of retail vice-president Deirdre O’Brien telling employees that while she recognised the right to join a union, “it’s equally your right not to join a union”, the BBC further reported.
“I’m worried about what it would mean to put another organisation in the middle of our relationship, an organisation that does not have a deep understanding of Apple or our business,” O’Brien is heard saying.
The employees of the Atlanta store have delayed the planned ballot with the Communications Workers of America union alleging anti-union activity by the company, the BBC reported. The union organisers at the store filed a formal complaint with the NLRB accusing Apple of requiring workers to listen to anti-union messages during mandatory meetings, the NYT reported.
In a video produced by the website More Perfect Union ahead of the vote, the Towson store employees alleged that Apple’s anti-union campaign is “nasty” and the management told the workers that unions once prohibited Black employees from joining their ranks, according to the NYT.
After O’Brien visited the store before the voting, employees said their managers started encouraging them to air their grievances in meetings and offer solutions. Eric Brown, a Towson store employee active in the union effort, told NYT that the management also had one-on-one meetings with the employees highlighting the cost of union dues.
Ms. Reeder said that workers in Atlanta had helped prepare union supporters at the Towson store to defuse the company’s talking points. “We kind of got some insight from the Atlanta store on things that were coming,” she said, citing the company’s suggestions that employees could lose certain benefits during a contract negotiation if they unionized.
“For that to happen, a majority of us have to agree,” Ms. Reeder added. “I don’t think any of us would agree to lose something we love dearly, that benefits us.”
At Starbucks, one of the companies where organizers have gained the most momentum, employees credited a vote to organize at a store in Buffalo with helping to spur other stores to file for union elections. Since that vote in December, more than 150 of the company’s roughly 9,000 corporate-owned stores in the U.S. have voted to unionize, according to the N.L.R.B.
“Workers gain interest and courage if workers elsewhere prevail,” William Gould, a law professor at Stanford University and author of For Labor to Build Upon: Wars, Depression and Pandemic, told the NYT. “Many watch to see: Can workers succeed? Will they band together? If the answer is affirmative, it will encourage other workers to take a step toward collective bargaining.”
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