Apple faces in-store labor campaign as union increases pressure

OWorkers at an Apple Inc. store in Atlanta became the first in the United States to run for union office on Wednesday, sparking a battle between unions and a Silicon Valley titan.

The proposed union includes 107 workers at an Apple store in Cumberland Mall in northwest Atlanta. The group filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday after collecting signed support cards from 70% of eligible employees, said Derrick Bowles, an Apple Store employee in Cumberland and a member of the organizing committee.

A successful campaign could establish a foothold for organized labor in big tech, as a nationwide labor shortage forces employers to reevaluate wages and working conditions. The effort is supported by the Communications Workers of America as part of a larger campaign to organize tech workers. The Atlanta group is believed to be called Apple Workers Union, according to a copy of the petition and internal campaign materials reviewed by Bloomberg Law.

The union has proposed an on-site election from May 5-7.

“Right now, I think, is the right time because we’re just seeing momentum in the direction of workers,” Bowles said. “As we sat down and reassessed, what we realized is that we love being at Apple – and leaving Apple is not something we want to do. But improving it is something we wanted to do.

Organizers say the pay at the store is less than Atlanta’s living wage. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the starting wage is about $20 an hour, lower than the living wage of $31 an hour for a single parent with one child. The union wants to raise base wages to $28 an hour, the minimum it deems necessary for a single employee to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment without being burdened with rent. He’s also asking for bigger raises to offset inflation and more profit sharing to match the company’s employees.

An Apple spokesperson did not comment specifically on the union’s filing, but said the company was “pleased to offer very strong compensation and benefits to full-time and part-time employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, annual equity grants and many other benefits.

Apple Workers Union faces an uphill battle against a tech giant known for uniformity in its retail stores, a cornerstone of its strategy to deliver an elegant customer experience. Since opening the first physical store in 2001, the company has grown to more than 500 stores worldwide, including nearly 300 in the United States.

Watch Amazon, Starbucks

The filing comes as another Apple store in New York seeks to organize under Workers United, the union behind the recent wave of victories at Starbucks Corp stores. Union leaders are hoping a win in Atlanta will spark a cascade of wins similar to the first Starbucks that unionized in Buffalo, NY, last December, Bowles said.

Although the share of private sector workers belonging to unions remains near historic lows, union leaders are optimistic after Starbucks victories and the unexpected coup at an Inc. warehouse in Staten Island, NY

Discussions about forming a union at the Atlanta store began after several workers, including Bowles, began following the fight against the Amazon union in Bessemer, Ala. Although Amazon workers were defeated in the first election, it inspired Apple workers to come forward as the first store.

“Somebody has to be the first to do something,” Bowles said. “Being first doesn’t matter to us, that’s what matters to us. And if we have to be the first, we will be the first.

Microsoft Corp., Apple’s main competitor, remains non-union, like most big tech companies. But there has been unrest recently, with workers at Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, which launched a workers’ advocacy group last year, and employees at Activision Blizzard Inc. seeking to train a union before the company was acquired by Microsoft.

The Apple Store Union petition is expected to be reviewed by the NLRB, which would then hold hearings on the size of the bargaining unit and other key issues. Apple did not say whether it would consider the unusual step of voluntarily recognizing workers.

—With help from Mark Gurman

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