Apple Store workers in Maryland have voted to join a union, becoming the tech giant’s first retail employees to join a labour-force movement as part of a wider trend across US retail, service and tech industries.
Workers voted to unionise on a nearly two-to-one margin and the result, announced on Saturday 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 policies pertaining to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Employees of more than two dozen of Apple’s 270 US stores have expressed interest in unionizing in recent months, union leaders say.
More than 100 workers in Towson, near Baltimore, voted 65-33 to join the union, known as the Apple Coalition of Organized Retail Employees – AppleCore – that will be part of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), an industrial trade union that represents more than 300,000 employees.
The local workers “have the support of a solid majority of our coworkers”, they said in a statement. “This is something we do not [do] to go against or create conflict with our management.”
“I applaud the courage displayed by Core members at the Apple store in Towson for achieving this historic victory,” IAM International president Robert Martinez said in a statement. “They made a huge sacrifice for thousands of Apple employees across the nation who had all eyes on this election.”
The union bills itself as one of the largest and most diverse industrial trade unions in North America, representing about 600,000 active and retired members in the aerospace, defense, airlines, railroad, transit, healthcare, automotive and other industries.
Last month, the Apple workers and IAM sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook informing him of the decision to organize their union, listing “access to rights we do not currently have”, and calling on the company “to pledge not to use your resources to engage in an anti-union campaign”.
An Apple spokesman repeated the company’s response to an earlier petition in Atlanta. “We are pleased to offer very strong compensation and benefits for full time and part time employees, including healthcare, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, annual stock grants and many other benefits,” the spokesperson said.
Last month, Apple increased starting wages for retail employees to $22 an hour, from $20, and released a video-statement by Deirdre O’Brien, head of Apple retail, cautioning employees that unionization could hurt the company’s business.
Unionization efforts are gaining momentum at some large US corporations, including Amazon and Starbucks. Some current and former Apple workers last year began criticizing the company’s working conditions online, using the hashtag #AppleToo. Apple workers in Atlanta who were seeking to unionize withdrew their request last month, claiming intimidation.
After Saturday’s vote, an Apple spokesperson said by email the company had “nothing to add at this time”.
Apple retail employees involved in the Towson Mall union campaign have said they want a greater say over issues including coronavirus safety, hours and pay, balance in work and life pursuits and benefits to be commensurate with tenure.
They have also said that technical skills and product expertise required at Apple are superior to those at other retail jobs. And an underlying theme is that Apple has been slow to increase worker compensation while profits at the company have soared.
Apple, valued at around $2.1tn, reported a record $97.3bn in revenue in its second fiscal quarter, up 9% from the same period last year.
“The people who we have the biggest relationship with, our store leaders, almost have little to no say in what affects the workers,” Onye Igwulu, a 24-year-old employee at the Towson store, told the Guardian earlier this month.
“We’re standing up to make a better life for ourselves and our family that we feel we deserve and I think all workers deserve. We love our work extremely, we just want to have a say in the things that affect us,” Igwulu added.