Apple workers at Maryland store vote to unionize, a first in the US
By Tripp Mickle and Noam Scheiber
Apple employees at a Baltimore-area store have voted to unionize, making it the first of the company’s 270-plus stores in the United States to join a trend in labor organizing sweeping through retailers, restaurants and tech companies.
The result, announced over the weekend by the National Labor Relations Board, provides a foothold for a budding movement among Apple retail employees who want a greater voice over wages and COVID-19 policies. Employees of more than two dozen Apple stores have expressed interest in unionizing in recent months, union leaders say.
In the election, 65 employees at Apple’s 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. It will be part of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, an industrial trade union that represents more than 300,000 employees.
“I applaud the courage displayed by CORE members at the Apple store in Towson for achieving this historic victory,” said Robert Martinez Jr., president of IAM International, in a statement. “They made a huge sacrifice for thousands of Apple employees across the nation who had all eyes on this election.”
Tyra Reeder, a technical specialist who has worked at the Towson store a little over six months, said that she was “elated” with the outcome and that she hoped a union would help increase workers’ compensation; stabilize 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,” Reeder said.
The outcome is a blow to Apple’s campaign to blunt union drives by arguing that it pays more than many retailers and provides an array of benefits, including health care and stock grants. Last month, it increased starting wages for retail employees to $22 an hour, from $20, and released a video of Deirdre O’Brien, who leads Apple retail, cautioning employees that joining a union could hurt the company’s business.
Apple declined to comment.
Employees in Towson said in a video before the union vote that Apple’s anti-union campaign there was “nasty” and included management telling workers that unions once prohibited Black employees from joining their ranks. In the weeks before the vote, O’Brien visited the store and thanked everyone for their hard work.
Soon after, employees said their managers began encouraging staff to air their concerns in meetings and help come up with solutions to their grievances. They also started to pull 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, employees at a store in Atlanta abandoned a planned election when support for the union fizzled after Apple’s moves to increase wages and highlight the benefits it offered. The union organizers in Atlanta have filed a formal charge with the NLRB, accusing Apple of requiring workers to listen to anti-union messages during mandatory meetings. The board has not yet determined if the charge has merit.
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,” 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, New York, 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 NLRB.
Workers at stores that later unionized reached out to employees in Buffalo for advice on how to navigate the process.
“Workers gain interest and courage if workers elsewhere prevail,” said William Gould, a law professor at Stanford University and author of “For Labor to Build Upon: Wars, Depression and Pandemic.” “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.”
The ability of workers to win a contract may hinge on whether the campaign spreads to other stores. Union supporters at Starbucks have said that one of their largest sources of leverage over the company is the fact that they continue to win elections around the country.
Amazon workers who helped unionize a warehouse in the New York City borough of Staten Island in April have also said they would benefit if more warehouses followed suit. The company is challenging the outcome of that vote before the labor board. With only one U.S. location that has formally unionized, the company can focus resources on opposing the union there.
Apple employees are also organizing at the Grand Central Terminal store in New York and a store in Louisville, Kentucky. Those stores are building support before they ask for an election. Organizers in Atlanta have said that they plan to revive their election in the future.