TOWSON, Md. — The historic vote by employees of a Maryland Apple store to unionize — a first for the technology giant — is a significant step in a lengthy process that labor experts say is heavily stacked against workers in favor of their employers.
Apple store workers in Baltimore’s suburb voted for unionization by nearly two-to-one margin on Saturday. This joins a rising push to increase workplace protections across the U.S. tech, retail and service industries.
It’s not yet clear whether the recent wave of unionizations represent a broader shift in U.S. labor. Experts say that the lack of hourly workers and those with low wages means that employees are more powerful than ever, particularly when there is low unemployment.
“It’s not that big a deal to lose one of these jobs because you can get another crummy job,” said Ruth Milkman, labor scholar at the City University of New York.
Now the question is: What happens?
The Apple retail workers in Towson, Maryland, voted 65-33 to seek entry into the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union’s announcement said. The National Labor Relations Board will now have to confirm the result. A spokesperson referred initial queries about the vote to the board’s regional office, which was closed late Saturday. An Associated Press message was not returned by the board on Sunday.
Apple and the union will be able to begin negotiations on a contract once the vote is confirmed.
“Labor law in the United States is a is a long process. And so the fact that a single store negotiates or elects a union doesn’t mean that there’s a negotiated contract in the workplace. And we know in recent history that in many of these situations, parties are unable to come to terms on an initial contract,” Michael Duff, a former NRLB lawyer and professor at University of Wyoming College of Law, said Sunday.
“The employer in the United States has an awful lot of rights to simply withdraw recognition at the end of the process. The employer can prove that it no longer supports a majority of the employees in the bargaining unit,” Duff added.
Duff explained that even after a union becomes certified, there are legal recourses available to companies in order to defeat it. For instance, Apple could say it doesn’t believe that the bargaining unit that was certified by the NLRB is an appropriate bargaining unit. refuse to bargain with union.
“If that happens, the whole thing goes to the courts and it could easily be a year or two before you even get the question of whether the employer is required to bargain with the union,” Duff added.
Labor experts say it’s common for employers to drag out the bargaining process in an effort to take the momentum out of union campaigns. It’s also possible that Apple — or any other company — restructures its business so the unionized workers are reclassified as independent contractors and not employees, in which case the union vote is moot, Duff said.
Apple declined to comment on Saturday’s development, company spokesperson Josh Lipton told The Associated Press by phone. Apple was not available for comment when we reached them again on Sunday.
John Logan, San Francisco State University director of labor-employment studies, stated that the successful vote will inspire other workers to organise.
“Workers are already organizing at other Apple stores, but this shows them the company is not invincible,” he said.
Apple’s well-known brand name is also likely to help.
“The public has a very direct relationship with companies like Apple, so the first union victory will generate enormous traditional media and social media coverage,” Logan said. “Young workers learn union activism through this coverage, and some will likely be inspired to try to organize their own workplaces.”
Despite U.S. labor law being stacked against workers, Duff said he thinks that “if there is going to be a reawakened labor movement in the United States it will happen in just this way.”
Following decades of falling union membership, the U.S. has seen a rise in organizing for various fields. Union organizers have helped to create unions in companies like Amazon, Starbucks and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, as well as outdoors retailer REI.
Apple employees, who wanted union membership, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said that they had sent Tim Cook notice last year that they are seeking to create a union. The statement said their driving motivation was to seek “rights we do not currently have.” It added that the workers recently organized in the Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, or CORE.
“I applaud the courage displayed by CORE members at the Apple store in Towson for achieving this historic victory,” IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. said in the statement. “They made a huge sacrifice for thousands of Apple employees across the nation who had all eyes on this election.”
Martinez urged Apple to honor the election results, and allow the unionized employees to fast track efforts to get a contract at Towson.
IAM claims to be one of North America’s largest and most varied industrial trade unions. It represents approximately 600,000. Members in aerospace, defence, railway, healthcare, transport, healthcare, and other sectors. Logan said the Apple victory shows that the established labor movement “is capable of adapting its self to the needs of the group of independent-minded, self-confident workers you find at Apple stores.”
The Apple store unionization vote comes against a backdrop of other labor organizing efforts nationwide — some of them rebuffed.
Amazon workers at a warehouse in New York City voted to unionize in April, the first successful U.S. organizing effort in the retail giant’s history. A union request was rejected by workers in another Amazon warehouse, Staten Island. Meanwhile, Starbucks workers at dozens of U.S. stores have voted to unionize in recent months, after two of the coffee chain’s stores in Buffalo, New York, voted to unionize late last year.
Young workers have led many unionization initiatives, some in their teens and 20s. Alphabet Workers Union was formed last year by a group of Google engineers, and others. It is composed around 800 Google employees. Five people under 35 manage it.
“This is the generation with the kind of world view that’s really different than we’ve seen in many generations,” said CUNY’s Milkman. “They believe in this.”
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