An Apple Store Votes to Unionize for the First Time

In a statement sent before the results were announced, Apple spokesperson Josh Lipton wrote, “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.”

Members penned an open letter to CEO Tim Cook announcing their union, called Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, or CORE, and asking him not to wage an anti-union campaign. It went unheeded. The company retained the union avoidance firm Littler Mendelson, the same firm used by Starbucks. A near-daily parade of anti-union rhetoric followed, some at daily meetings, called “downloads,” and some in one-on-one asides. Managers would take individuals out of the store for walk-and-talks, sometimes as frequently as every hour, says DiMaria. In late May, Apple sent a video to all its US stores featuring vice president of retail Deirdre O’Brien. A union, she warned employees, “could limit our ability to make immediate, widespread changes to improve your experience.”

DiMaria says Apple deployed scare tactics to try to mislead workers into believing that if the union won, they might lose their benefits, that the attendance policy would become stricter, and that they wouldn’t be able to meet with their managers without the union. He says they appeared to be tailoring their messaging to individual employees, which a worker in the Atlanta store says happened there too.

Apple did take a different approach from Atlanta in its scheduling of group meetings to discuss the union. Previously they were required, according to Atlanta store workers. In Towson they were billed as voluntary, although they automatically appeared on employees’ schedules, and they had to actively opt out. The change in tactics follows a memo from National Labor Relations Board general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo saying those so-called captive audience meetings were illegal. In light of that guidance, the union representing the Atlanta store filed an unfair labor practice change with the NLRB.

Members of the suspended union effort in Atlanta have been in touch with Apple employees at other stores, including Towson, to advise them on what to expect from Apple and how to fight back. “When a manager says something in a public forum, it’s not enough to say it’s not true,” says Atlanta staffer and organizing committee member Derrick Bowles. Workers need to go the further step of explaining why the statement is illogical as well.

Bowles says managers attempted to paint union organizers in Atlanta as aggressors, frequently throwing around terms like “tension” and “bullying,” which he disputed in meetings. He says other Apple workers running union campaigns need to put these managers on the spot. “Like, ‘You say we might lose benefits. Is that a threat? Is that something you’d be willing to put into writing?’ You have to put leadership on the defensive. If you are on the defensive, you will lose.”

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