Employees at an Apple store in Atlanta on Wednesday filed a petition to hold union elections. If successful, the workers could form the first union at an Apple store in the United States.
The move continues a recent trend of unionization in the services sector, with unions winning elections at Starbucks, Amazon and REI locations.
The workers hope to join the Communications Workers of America, which represents workers at companies like AT&T Mobility and Verizon, and which has made a concerted push in the tech sector in recent years.
The union says about 100 employees of the store — in Cumberland Mall, in northwest Atlanta — are eligible to vote, including salespeople and repair technicians, and more than 70 percent of them have signed an authorization card to show their support.
In a statement, the union said that Apple, like other tech employers, had effectively created a tiered workforce that denied store workers the pay, benefits and respect employees earned at its headquarters.
Employees said they enjoyed working at Apple but sometimes felt they were treated like second-class employees. “We want to be equal to what business actually gets,” said Sydney Rhodes, a store employee involved in the union campaign.
Ms. Rhodes, who spent four years at Apple, said she and many of her colleagues hoped to continue working for Apple for years to come, but it was often unclear how they could move forward within the company. “Another reason we are working towards this union is a more clear and concise way to grow, especially internally,” she added.
An Apple spokesperson said the company offered strong benefits, including health care coverage, tuition reimbursement and paid family leave, and a $20-per-hour minimum wage for store employees.
“We are fortunate to have incredible members of the retail team and we really appreciate everything they bring to Apple,” the spokesperson said, but declined to comment on the union efforts. The company would not say whether it would voluntarily recognize the union.
Officials from the National Labor Relations Board will then determine whether there is enough interest among workers to hold an election — the bar is officially set at 30 percent — and set the terms for a potential vote. Both the union and the employer will have the opportunity to consider the details, including the universe of employees who are eligible to participate and whether the vote should be by mail or in person.
Other unions, most notably Workers United, a subsidiary of the giant Service Employees International Union that spearheaded the organizing campaign at Starbucks, are also trying to unionize Apple retailers, of which there are tens of thousands in the United States.
Workers at an Apple store in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal have begun signing authorization cards that could lead to a union vote application that would allow them to join Workers United. The move was reported by The Washington Post last weekend.
Activism and labor organization at Apple have been on the rise since last summer, when discontent over the company’s plan to force employees to return to the office snowballed into a broader move dubbed #AppleToo. That move was intended to expose issues in the workplace such as harassment, unequal pay and what employees described as a culture of secrecy that permeated the company.
“Apple employees in all industries and around the world are using their voices to demand better treatment,” Janneke Parrish, one of the #AppleToo leaders, said of the union effort. Ms. Parrish has said Apple fired her in retaliation for her organization. “I’m so happy to see workers taking this big step to stand up for their rights,” she said. Apple has disputed Ms. Parrish’s allegations.
The #AppleToo movement has included store workers, who have said during the pandemic that Apple has not done enough to protect them from the coronavirus.
Complaints from store employees escalated late last year when the Omicron variant quickly spread across the country, requiring at least 20 Apple stores to temporarily close as a precaution or because so many of their employees had become infected that the stores could no longer operate. On Christmas Eve, several dozen Apple employees quit their jobs to demand better wages and benefits.
Ms. Rhodes said efforts at her store got underway in earnest last fall and her colleagues had been encouraged by union campaigns at companies such as Starbucks and Amazon.
In addition to her rapprochement with Apple, the communications workers’ union has spent the past few years attending Google, helping workers form a so-called solidarity or minority union that allows them to coordinate actions without holding union elections and requesting labor council certification. Companies don’t have to negotiate with minority unions, as they do with more formal unions.
The union also recently won a vote to represent about a dozen store employees at Google Fiber stores in Kansas City, Mo., who are formally employed by a Google contractor. It wants to represent several dozen Wisconsin quality workers at video game maker Activision Blizzard, which is acquiring Microsoft, pending regulatory approval.