Apple employees at a Baltimore-area store have voted to unionize, making it the first of the company’s more than 270 U.S. stores to join a unionization trend sweeping through retailers, restaurants and technology companies.
The result, announced by the National Labor Relations Board on Saturday, gives a foothold to a nascent movement among Apple distribution employees who want a bigger voice on Covid-19 wages and policies. Employees at more than two dozen Apple stores have expressed interest in unionizing in recent months, according to union leaders.
In the election, 65 employees at the Apple store in Towson, Maryland, voted in favor of being represented by the union, known as the Apple Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, while 33 voted against. He will be part of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, an industrial union that represents more than 300,000 employees.
“I applaud the courage shown by CORE members at the Apple store in Towson to achieve this historic victory,” Robert Martinez Jr., president of IAM International, said in a statement. “They made a huge sacrifice for thousands of Apple employees across the country who had their eyes on this election.”
Tyra Reeder, a technical specialist who worked at the Towson store for just over six months, said she was “delighted” with the result and hoped a union would help increase workers’ compensation; stabilize the store’s schedule, strained by the recent cases of Covid-19; and facilitate the development of employees within the company.
“We love our jobs. We just want to see them do better,” Ms Reeder said.
The result is a blow to Apple’s campaign to blunt labor movements by claiming it pays more than many retailers and offers a range of benefits including healthcare and stock subsidies. Last month, he raised the starting wage for retail employees to $22 an hour, from $20, and posted a video of Deirdre O’Brien, who runs Apple Retail, warning employees that joining a union could harm business operations.
Apple declined to comment.
Towson employees said in a video ahead of the union vote that Apple’s anti-union campaign there was “nasty” and included management telling workers that unions once barred black employees from joining their ranks. In the weeks leading up to the vote, Ms O’Brien visited the store and thanked everyone for their hard work.
Soon after, employees said their managers began encouraging staff to voice their concerns in meetings and help find solutions to their grievances. They also began luring employees into one-on-one meetings where managers highlighted the cost of union dues, said Eric Brown, a Towson employee active in the union effort.
Earlier this month, workers at an Atlanta store scrapped a planned election when support for the union plummeted after Apple moved to raise wages and highlight the benefits it offered . Atlanta union organizers have filed a formal complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing Apple of forcing workers to listen to anti-union messages at mandatory meetings. The council has not yet determined whether the accusation is true.
Ms Reeder said Atlanta workers helped prepare union supporters at the Towson store to defuse company talking points. “We kind of got some insight from the Atlanta store on things to come,” she said, citing company suggestions that employees could lose some 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 accept losing something that we love very much, that benefits us.”
At Starbucks, one of the companies where organizers have gained the most momentum, employees credited a vote to organize at a Buffalo store with helping inspire other stores to run for union office. Since that vote in December, more than 150 of the approximately 9,000 company-owned stores in the United States have voted to unionize, according to the NLRB.
Workers at stores that later unionized reached out to Buffalo employees for advice on how to navigate the process.
“Workers gain interest and courage if workers elsewhere prevail,” said William Gould, a Stanford University law professor and author of “For Labor to Build Upon: Wars, Depression and Pandemic.” “Many are watching to see: can workers succeed? Will they regroup? If the answer is yes, it will encourage other workers to take a step towards collective bargaining.
The ability of workers to win a contract may depend on the campaign spreading to other stores. Union supporters at Starbucks have said that one of their biggest sources of influence on the company is their continued winning of elections across the country.
Amazon workers who helped organize a Staten Island warehouse in April also said they would benefit if more warehouses followed suit. The company is contesting the result of this vote before the labor commission. With only one site in the United States that has officially unionized, the company can focus its resources on opposing the union there.
Apple employees are also organizing at the Grand Central Terminal store in New York and at a store in Louisville, Ky. These stores are rallying support ahead of calling for an election. Atlanta organizers said they plan to rerun their election in the future.
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