What Apple's VP of People is telling her people about unions (audio)

From Lauren Kaori Gurley's "Leaked audio: Apple VP Gives Apple Store Workers Anti-Union Speech" posted Wednesday on Vice's Motherboard:

“We have a relationship that's based on an open and collaborative and direct engagement, which I feel could fundamentally change if a store is represented by a union under a collective bargaining agreement,” said Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s vice president of retail and people, in a six-minute video circulated yesterday among Apple’s 58,000 retail employees in the United States and obtained by Motherboard...

O’Brien, sitting in a wood-paneled room with a potted orchid and framed photos of Apple’s corporate campus, goes on to use other standard anti-union talking points favored by employers looking to crush unionization efforts among their workers. “I'm worried about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship, an organization that does not have a deep understanding of Apple or our business,” O’Brien continued. “And most importantly, one that I do not believe shares our commitment to you.”..,

In the video, O’Brien also suggests that a union would make it more difficult for Apple to work on improving conditions for its retail workers. “Apple moves incredibly fast,” she says. “And I worry that, because the union would bring its own legally mandated rules that would determine how we work through issues, it could make it harder for us to act swiftly to address things that you raise.”

“It turned my stomach,” an Apple retail worker and union organizer who viewed the video and requested to remain anonymous, said. “As someone who genuinely likes my company, but is working to organize my store to hold it to its values, I’m disappointed not only in what was said in the video, but also in how convincing it will be to some people that are on the fence."

Cue the audio:

My take: This will be a test of what kind of good will O'Brien has managed to build within Apple's retail staff.


  1. Michael Goldfeder said:
    When I read this comment: “It turned my stomach,” an Apple retail worker and union organizer who viewed the video and requested to remain anonymous, said. “As someone who genuinely likes my company, but is working to organize my store to hold it to its values, I’m disappointed not only in what was said in the video, but also in how convincing it will be to some people that are on the fence.”

    It highlights the fact that those organizing a “Union” are apparently rather insecure. Why fear all sides providing input?

    May 26, 2022
  2. Steven Philips said:
    I’ll go with Deirdre, not a union organizer who gets an upset tummy when he doesn’t get his way!

    May 26, 2022
  3. Greg Bates said:
    Why not take a scientific view? There are 272 Apple stores in the US. (As someone who lives in rural Maine, I wish there were more!) If a union would be as problematic for employees as O’Brien predicts, that should become clear to employees once one is established in one store, or a handful of them. Then workers can stop spreading unionization once it becomes the bad choice based on employee experience.

    O’Brien’s view is suspect as it echoes the standard reaction companies have to unions: suggesting the company fears for the welfare of employees while masking a very real fear for profits–worry that working people might gain new say over their work lives in ways that will impinge on those margins. If O’Brien’s concern is genuinely for those working in the stores, why not show she is right by taking a more wait-and-see attitude rather than proffering the traditional arguments of so many companies?

    Unionization might have an upside: employee retention. If the tight labor market is permanent, that could be good for Apple–and its investors.

    May 26, 2022
    • David Emery said:
      I see your arguments as mostly ad-hominem, a “threat to profits” as the only motivation. It’s clear that unionization brings an adversarial relationship to employee relations, and substantially hinders the company’s freedom in establishing working conditions. Now unions argue “that’s a good thing” and I understand the validity of that argument. But as I read once, “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.” Unionization may well produce benefits for the union workers above what the company offers, but that has to be balanced against what the company might offer in the absence of adversarial negotiations.

      Personally, as I’ve said before, I’m not happy with the current Apple Store experience. And as a customer, I’m not convinced that unionization will change that for the better (and might make it worse.) Now that’s not the direct purpose of an employee union, but it is a concern for the company and -should be- a concern for employees.

      May 26, 2022
  4. Fred Stein said:
    On Glassdoor, employees give Apple an overall approval of 4.2 out of 5.

    For investors, the impact will be minimal to zero. Statistics, random distribution, says there may (or may not) be a few pockets, a few locations, where there’s enough votes for the union.

    Deirdre’s point holds. In Apple’s case, unions are not likely to make things better for employees. With other employers, unions may be the best option for employees.

    May 26, 2022
  5. Jerry Doyle said:
    “…. They (Apple workers) also want Apple, the world’s most valuable company, to share more of its profits with frontline workers who sell iPhones, MacBooks, and iPads.”

    The Department of Labor has a large volume that contains all the jobs classified in the United States, describing with specificity the physical and mental skills needed to do the work tasks in each specific job. Job placement recruiters, VR Counselors, and some allied health professionals use the huge volumes to study specific jobs to decide the needed physical and mental capacity required to perform the positions. (I suspect attorneys representing applicants turned down for SSDI benefits use the “Dictionary of Occupational Titles,” too).

    So, a retail sales clerk for one retail outlet requires the same or similar level of physical and mental capacities as a retail salesperson does in other retail outlets to do the similar job. It is for this reason their pay often is commensurate or comparable. A barber can only command a certain level of salary based on the requisite skills needed to do the job. Same for a house painter, a plumber, an electrician, a welder, etc. For Apple workers to demand more pay because their company is more profitable is socialism where workers demand to share in the profits.

    Apple workers’ pay is predicated on the salary level for workers in that vocational field (retail sales clerk), not on the profits of the company, per se.

    May 26, 2022
    • Steven Philips said:
      This is as it should be. And IF there are more than normal benefits there should be higher expectations of quality in the work force.
      This is where unions often get it wrong.
      A Formula 1 team wouldn’t just hire union mechanics.

      May 26, 2022
  6. Tom Farris said:
    Aren’t all of our container ports Unionized? When we talk about supply chain backlog, with what, 50 – 100 ships waiting to be unloaded in LA/LB isn’t the backlog at our end of the supply chain?

    May 27, 2022

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