Will Apple fight unionization?

From Reed Albergotti’s “Some U.S. Apple Store employees are working to unionize, part of a growing worker backlash” posted Friday:

Employees at several Apple Stores across the country are quietly working to unionize, according to people familiar with the efforts, as growing dissent among hourly workers threatens to disrupt one of the most stolid tech giants.

Groups at at least two Apple retail stores are backed by major national unions and are preparing to file paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the near future, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential plans. At least a half dozen more locations are at less-advanced stages in the unionization process, these people say.

Spurred by wages that have stagnated below the rate of inflation, and encouraged by successful efforts by Starbucks employees to form unions, retail workers say they hope they can push the world’s most valuable company to share more of its record-setting profits with the workers who sell, repair and troubleshoot the products it sells…

Employees say Apple’s hourly rates are usually in line with what other retail jobs pay in the regions where they’re employed. But most other retailers do not earn so much in revenue, nor are they valued at near $3 trillion. Apple Store employees interviewed by The Post believe their knowledge and passion for the products help drive sales and that they should share more fully in the company’s success.

My take: Everyone wants a piece of the pie. Meanwhile, I expect management to abide by its own code of conduct. See Apple’s Supplier Responsibilities (Section 1.1.1)

Supplier shall have a written policy on freedom of association… Supplier shall respect Workers’ lawful rights to form or participate (or refrain from forming or participating) in organizations of their choosing, including but not limited to unions, Worker committees, or other Worker associations, and bargain collectively without interference, discrimination, retaliation, or harassment. Supplier shall accommodate Workers should they express a desire for a Grievance mechanism in addition to formal representation. Where country law substantially restricts freedom of association, Supplier shall allow alternative means for Workers to individually and collectively engage with Supplier, including processes for Workers to express their Grievances and protect their rights regarding working conditions and terms of employment.

28 Comments

  1. David Drinkwater said:
    Magic 8-Ball says:

    “Signs are pointing to Yes.”

    I am not opposed to unions, but past experience says that even “generous” companies don’t like them.

    1
    February 18, 2022
  2. Michael Goldfeder said:
    I’m waiting for one of the departed Apple employees who complained about everything and anything under the sun to self proclaim themself as the head of any union and most certainly install herself as the President.

    0
    February 18, 2022
  3. David Emery said:
    A couple of problems from the ‘enlightened employer’ perspective:
    1. The union goals/values don’t necessarily match the company’s goals/values. (We have seen this most strongly with police unions, I think.)
    2. Union negotiations slow down the decision-making and execution. (We see this a lot with teachers unions.)
    3. Union grievance processes can protect bad workers (where ‘bad’ is under-performing or rule-breaking) – that’s another thing we’ve seen with unions in the public space. Now unions have every right to defend their members, but from the employer’s perspective that can go well beyond what the employer thinks is reasonable.
    4. Some unions take their workers into areas outside of the employment scope. (e.g. political positions) Now one can argue this is just ‘balance’, but it’s still a concern.

    The question in my mind is how employers and unions balance these concerns. In highly unionized industries (e.g. auto industry), they have worked out union representation even up to the corporate board. But as you look at the auto industry, you can see the movement away from Detroit and into locations that are much less unionized/organized. That’s a reduction in costs for the employer, and it’s hard to argue against ‘reducing costs.’ But at the same time, Boeing is learning that cheaper workers aren’t necessarily A Good Thing (e.g. the problems 787 assembly has had in the Charleston SC plant.)

    3
    February 18, 2022
  4. Fred Stein said:
    Friendly reminder:

    Apple started giving stock grants of $1000 to $2000 to all retail workers announced in Oct 2015. Those shares have gone up > 500% since.

    Mr. Albergotti, please tell us what percent of Apple’s 100,000 employees have joined this organizing effort. The data says whether you have click-bait or news.

    0
    February 18, 2022
  5. Jerry Doyle said:
    As a former Union Local President and former National Executive VP of a Union Council in the AFL-CIO, I can say unequivocally that within the industrialized nations, Unions have been the most powerful force in building social protections, not just for their own members but for all society. Labor Unions give greater bargaining power to workers along with an expansion of educational opportunities for career development, staff development and in-service training.

    Will Apple fight Unionization? I know of no company ever welcoming with open arms another organized entity to proffer advisement and consultation along with exercising a degree of authority over how the company runs its administrative, management and operational aspects along with giving that entity a seat at the table in making decisions relative to employees’ working conditions, all while affording the entity an entitled role to scrutinize the company’s treatment of workers to ensure all are treated in a fair & equitable manner? So, the answer is “yes,” Apple will fight unionization using its own sophisticated and subtle methods to convince employees against organizing. There is nothing wrong with Apple employing that strategic tactic as long as Apple does not block the right of workers to organize.

    Unions are all about social contracts targeted to establish minimum standards for Labor rights and environmental protections as well as to protect individual liberties that are the foundation of a democracy. Candidly, big business and captains of industries have shown us time and again that they oppose social contracts among workers. Look no further than what Ross Perot once told us about NAFTA and the subsequent “sucking sound” that would come. It came. Big business and the captains of industries (and Al Gore in his debate with Ross Perot) told us that the purpose of NAFTA was to make North America as a whole and its constituent nations more competitive. NO! It was to make North America’s corporate investors more competitive by giving them access to “cheap” labor. Then came “globalization” and the movement of American workers jobs to Asia.

    Continued ……..

    4
    February 18, 2022
    • Robert Paul Leitao said:
      Jerry: As a veteran union official, an Apple shareholder and an avid fan of the company and its products, in your experiences at the Apple retail stores, do you believe there’s valid cause for unionization of retail store employees? Are there any issues that you see involving the stores or its employees that you believe would have a better outcome for Apple, its employees and its customers if the stores were unionized?

      0
      February 18, 2022
      • Jerry Doyle said:
        @Robert Paul Leitao: Many employees’ grievances are individualized and localized to a particular office and not systemic across the organization. I would not be privy to individualized grievances such as a worker who felt that management was showing favoritism in carrying out performance appraisals, in the awarding of career development opportunities, giving out staff promotions, pay raises and bonuses. We have heard in the media of possible systemic problems involving disparate treatment of women relative to pay, promotions and career opportunities. Whether these allegations have merit, time will reveal. I believe some of those complaints are before the FLRB.

        In most all instances of employee complaints of which I am aware Apple has responded constructively, either agreeing with the complainants, disagreeing or in many instances working with the complainants to ameliorate matters or to reach some form of consensus. I believe most recently we saw Tim Cook show more flexibility on the date-of-return to office by employees working off-site, who expressed concern that they were being rushed prematurely back to office before it was completely safe. Apple also moved recently to increase pay and leave time to remain competitive with its peers in the industry. There is just so much that goes on internally in an organization that someone like me from afar without privy to the specifics and details of employees concerns and a review of management responses to those concerns is precluded to judge the merits of either party — employees’ complaints and Apple’s — response to those complaints.

        My own cursory review of Apple’s retail operations shows a company that maintains what appears to be seemingly safe working conditions and environments for its workers. Beyond that superficial observation I do not know what goes on internally.

        2
        February 18, 2022
    • David Drinkwater said:
      “Will Apple fight Unionization? I know of no company ever welcoming with open arms another organized entity to proffer advisement and consultation along with exercising a degree of authority over how the company runs …”

      In short, this.

      0
      February 19, 2022
  6. Jerry Doyle said:
    Continue…..

    I along with my Union brothers and sisters across this great nation worked our butts off to get Bill Clinton and Al Gore elected to office. Leaders of Unions and most environmental organizations later felt betrayed. Without our grassroots efforts, without our money, without our energetic support, Clinton never would have been elected. Yet, here was Bubba boy a little less than a year into his presidency joining with Labor leaders’ corporate adversaries and stabbing those Union brothers and sisters in the back and for an idea that was no less than the brainchild of Ronald Reagan!

    Management has no legitimate legal basis to deny temporary workers Union representation. In the private sector, it is a common tactic for Employers to use temporary workers and other contracting schemes to circumvent the full Union rights workers would have if they were directly employed. From a contemporary perspective, Amazon is the most egregious and notorious offender of late in the private sector to resort to a clear Union-avoidance tactic. In the public sector, George W. Bush outsourced many federal positions. For example, in the National Park Service you see Park Rangers in uniforms. Most all are not federal workers, but contract workers. Many work only seasonally, have little to no benefits and make modest wages at best.

    As real wages decline, as the cost of energy and other essential products rises, as interest rates go up, as the burden of inadequate health care and pension protection spreads, the public tolerance of humongous executive pay packages and continued outsourcing of jobs at the expense of the nation’s working class and the nation’s security will surely weaken. The American governing class of elites will be forced to retreat from its dreams of world domination through globalization and concentrate more on the defense of the middle-class living standards; or else the populist movement strengthens more.

    2
    February 18, 2022
  7. David Drinkwater said:
    “See Apple’s Supplier Responsibilities (Section 1.1.1)”

    So I hadn’t seen this when I made my laconic comment about the Magic 8-Ball. It’s an interesting paragraph, but the important question it raises is whether or not Apple sees it employees and its suppliers’ employees as the same flock. Manufacturing and Design and Sales/Marketing are all very different aspects of a business. Manufacturing is a beatdown. I know. I’ve been at it for twenty years. So that may be an important reason for Apple’s *supplier* relationships to be different than its relationship to its own employees.

    Again, laconically: is what is good for the goose what is good for the gander?

    I suspect that, on the whole, noting that the plural of anecdote is not data, Apple employees are treated fairly well, and there will always be a few bad ones in the bunch. If Apple is like most megacorps, it has rules for protecting dissent, so trouble employees can be … difficult. I have no idea how to speak to the contractor situation. That is way beyond my understanding of HR. But a contractor is not an FTE. I know that where I work, almost all direct labor start as contractees, and some then join the company.

    0
    February 19, 2022
  8. Mike Dsida said:
    Even if Apple treats its employees better than other corporations, real wages for most American workers have barely budged for decades. I don’t know the history of Apple employees’ wages in the United States, but I doubt that they have consistently outpaced the cost of living, especially given how housing costs have increased in many parts of the country. Shareholders of countless corporations, including Apple, have benefited from wage stagnation. Unionization _may_ ultimately reduce Apple’s earnings, but personally, I’m okay with that.

    0
    February 19, 2022

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