Apple Faces In-Store Labor Drive as Union Amps Up Pressure

WOrkers from an Apple Inc. store in Atlanta were the first to apply for union elections Wednesday. This set up a fight between organized labor and Silicon Valley’s giant.

The union would include 107 employees at the Apple store located in Cumberland Mall, northwest Atlanta. According to Derrick Bowles, an Apple store worker in Cumberland Mall and member of organizing committee, Wednesday’s petition was filed with the National Labor Relations Board. The group had received support letters from 70% of eligible employees.

An organized labor movement in Big Tech could be established if the campaign succeeds. Employers are being forced to reconsider their working conditions and pay, due to a shortage of workers. Communications Workers of America supports the effort as part of a larger campaign to organize employees in tech. Bloomberg Law reviewed a copy and some internal campaign literature to determine that the Atlanta group would be named Apple Workers Union.

The union proposed an on-site vote May 5-7.

“Right now, I think, is the right time because we simply see momentum swinging the way of workers,” Bowles said. “As we sat back and re-evaluated, what we realized is that we love being at Apple—and leaving Apple, that’s not something any of us wants to do. But improving it is something we wanted to do.”

According to organizers, the salary at the store is below the Atlanta living wage. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the starting pay for an employee is $20 per hour. This amount falls below the living wage of $31/hour for single parents with one child. Union members want to raise the base wage to $28 per hour. This is to ensure that a single worker can afford a 1 bedroom apartment and not be burdened with rent. It’s also asking for bigger raises to offset inflation and greater profit sharing to match corporate employees.

An Apple spokesman didn’t comment specifically on the union filing but said the company is “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.”

Apple Workers Union will face a tough battle against the tech giant, known for being uniform in its retail locations. It is the core of its strategy to offer a smooth customer experience. More than 500 Apple stores have been opened worldwide since 2001. Nearly 300 of these are located here in America.

Amazon Watching Starbucks

This filing is made as another Apple Store in New York attempts to join Workers United. Workers United was behind recent victories at Starbucks Corp. stores. Bowles explained that Union leaders believe that Atlanta victory will lead to a chain of similar wins as the one in Buffalo that was organized by workers last December.

The share of union-affiliated workers in private sectors is at historic lows. However, leaders in labor are optimistic following the Starbucks win and unexpected success at the Inc. warehouse, Staten Island.

After several workers in Bessemer (Ala.) fought for the Amazon union, discussions about the formation of a union at Atlanta began. Despite the defeat of Amazon workers in the first election it inspired Apple workers to open the first store.

“Somebody has got to be the first to do something,” Bowles said. “Being first doesn’t matter to us—doing it is what matters to us. And if we have to be first, we will be first.”

Microsoft Corp., Apple’s main competitor, remains nonunion, as do most major tech companies. But there have recently been flickers of unrest, with workers at Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, launching a worker advocacy group last year, and employees at Activision Blizzard Inc. seeking to form a union before the company is acquired by Microsoft.

The Apple Store Union’s petition would need to be reviewed by the NLRB, which would then hold hearings on the bargaining unit’s size and other key issues. Apple hasn’t said whether it would consider the unusual step of recognizing the workers voluntarily.

—With assistance from Mark Gurman

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