- Apple retail workers across the country are unionizing in locations like New York City and Atlanta.
- Internal and external challenges to organizing have made the future of Apple unions unclear.
- Labor experts and retail workers told Insider what the future of Apple unions might look like.
Apple workers across the country are currently organizing amid a ripple of unionization in Apple retail stores. But months after the first store in Atlanta and a slew of others announced unionization plans, only one location has successfully held a union election.
Workers have had a year of firsts unionizing within massive corporations, but their efforts have yielded varying success in an industry that typically suffers from high employee turnover and strong anti-union sentiment at the management level. Over 50 storefronts of popular coffee chain Starbucks have unionized, and momentum continues to build in stores across the country. Meanwhile, a highly anticipated unionization wave of Amazon warehouses has failed to extend beyond one successful union vote in Staten Island.
At Apple, union sentiments within stores are conflicted, current and former Apple Grand Central employees say. Apple retail workers also face unique unionizing hurdles like anti-union sentiment and higher-than-average retail pay, which can demotivate workers from organizing. These hurdles place the fate of Apple store unions in an uncertain limbo. The future of Apple unionization will depend on two factors: the level of engagement from employees and the lengths Apple leaders will go to stop efforts.
The Maryland-based Apple store’s union win is a positive sign for the movement, but it won’t be enough momentum to keep the efforts running indefinitely, said Eric Dirnbach, a research lead for Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA). More employees not only have to join the fight, but also lead it. This, however, may be difficult given the polarized opinions among Apple workers about unionization.
“Organizing in retail is very difficult to do, not only because of the usual anti-union behavior from management, but because of the high turnover and the fact that retail workers often don’t see themselves as committed to the job long term,” Dirnbach told Insider.
Conflicting feelings within one store
Apple Grand Central became the second store to publicly announce its unionization efforts in early 2022. Despite its early efforts, it sees contrasting internal sentiments on Apple store unionization.
A former employee of Apple Grand Central who is directly familiar with the union’s current organizing process said they were living paycheck-to-paycheck as a part-time specialist there and that they constantly had to think about whether they had enough money.
“I’d look at my paycheck, and I wouldn’t be able to make ends meet with that. I had just sold this one iPhone, and that one iPhone has paid my salary for the next two weeks,” the former employee said.
The former employee supports the unionization effort at the store, saying it wants to unionize around pay, benefits, and safety.
Others feel differently. Mario Ortiz, a current part-time specialist who has worked at Apple’s Grand Central store since it opened in 2011, does not support the current unionization efforts. Workers wanted to unionize years ago, but nobody knew where to begin, he said.
“People felt like if they breathed wrong, they would be let go,” Ortiz said. “But then they changed leadership and things have been great ever since. I think what we’re seeing now is just people responding to the political climate.”
Ortiz highlighted how Apple has strong benefits and acknowledged that some locations might need a union, but he emphasized that Apple Grand Central does not need one.
“I’m kind of disheartened by it,” Ortiz said. “We really have a great leadership team there that really cares about the employees. They care about how we feel, checking on us — there’s always a pulse of how the store is doing.”
Unique hurdles for Apple store unions
Apple employees hoping to unionize face the weight of a nearly $3 trillion public company. In other words, Apple can throw more money at workers to try and dissuade them from unionizing – an anti-union tactic that employers often use, LIUNA’s Dirnbach said.
What’s more, unionization movements can lose steam for a variety of reasons, such as if other stores’ union efforts fail, the job market is weak, workers can’t afford to change jobs, or companies successfully intimidate workers, said Cheryl Carleton, an associate professor of economics at Villanova University.
For example, the Communications Workers of America, which helped many Apple locations organize, has alleged the tech giant illegally discouraged workers at various Apple stores from engaging in union activity. One location included Apple Cumberland Mall, one of the first stores to file for a union election. It withdrew its request in May, citing intimidation from Apple.
“To the extent that stores in the same company are successful in organizing, others in the same company will try to build on that success,” said Carleton. “They also learn what works, what to expect for arguments against unionizing, and how to respond.”
At the end of the day, any union’s success depends on how well workers come together and how much they collectively want to change their working conditions.
“Workers want clear pathways and knowing that someone is fighting for them and hears them,” Carleton said.
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