Apple workers in Maryland face obstacles after union vote

TOWSON, Maryland (AP) – The historic vote by employees at an Apple store in Maryland to unionize – a first for the tech giant – is a significant step in a long process that labor experts say is strongly against workers in favor of your employers.

Employees at the Apple store in a Baltimore suburb voted to unionize by a nearly 2-to-1 margin on Saturday, joining a growing push. in the US retail, service and technology industries organize for greater protections in the workplace.

It remains unclear whether the recent wave of unionization represents a broader shift in US work. But experts say the current shortage of workers for low-wage, hourly jobs means employees have more power than they have historically, especially when unemployment is low.

“It’s not a big deal to lose one of these jobs because you can get another bad job,” said Ruth Milkman, a labor researcher at the City University of New York.

The question is: what happens now?

Apple retail workers in Towson, Maryland, voted 65 to 33 to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, according to the union’s announcement. The National Labor Relations Board now has to certify the result. A spokesperson referred initial questions about the vote to the council’s regional office, which was closed on Saturday. The board did not immediately respond to an Associated Press message on Sunday.

Once the vote is certified, the union and Apple can begin negotiating a contract.

“Employment law in the United States is a long process. And so the fact that a single store negotiates or elects a union does not mean that there is a negotiated contract in the workplace. And we know from recent history that in many of these situations, the parties are unable to agree on an initial contract,” Michael Duff, a former NLRB attorney and professor at the University of Wyoming School of Law, said Sunday.

“The employer in the United States has many rights to simply withdraw recognition at the end of the process. The employer can prove that it no longer supports the majority of employees in the bargaining unit,” added Duff.

Even after a union is certified, a company has a number of legal maneuvers at its disposal to combat it, Duff said. For example, Apple could say that it does not believe the NLRB-certified trading unit is an appropriate trading unit. and refuse to negotiate with the union.

“If that happens, the whole thing goes to the courts and it could easily take a year or two before you even know if the employer is obligated to negotiate with the union,” added Duff.

Labor experts say it is common for employers to prolong the bargaining process in an effort to deprive union campaigns of momentum. It is also possible that Apple — or any other company — could restructure its business so that unionized workers are reclassified as independent contractors rather than employees, in which case the union vote is moot, Duff said.

Apple declined to comment on Saturday’s development, company spokesman Josh Lipton told the Associated Press by phone. Reached out again on Sunday, Apple did not comment.

The successful vote serves to inspire workers across the country to organize, said John Logan, director of labor and labor studies at San Francisco State University.

“Workers are already organizing at other Apple stores, but it shows that the company is not invincible,” he said.

Apple’s well-known brand should also help.

“The public has a very direct relationship with companies like Apple, so the first union victory will generate huge coverage in traditional media and on social media,” Logan said. “Young workers learn union activism through this coverage, and some will likely be inspired to try to organize their own workplaces.”

Despite US labor law being stacked against workers, Duff said he thinks “if there is a revived labor movement in the United States, it will happen just like that.”

Union organizing in various fields has recently gained traction after decades of declining membership in US unions. Organizers worked to establish unions at companies including Amazon, Starbucks, Alphabet, the parent company of Google, and outdoor retailer REI.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and Apple employees who wanted to join said they sent Apple CEO Tim Cook a notice last month that they were looking to form a union. The statement said his primary motivation was to pursue “rights we currently do not have.” He added that workers had recently organized into the Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, or CORE.

“I applaud the courage shown by CORE members at the Apple Store in Towson for achieving this historic victory,” said IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. in the statement. “They made a huge sacrifice for thousands of Apple employees across the country who had their eyes on this election.”

Martinez urged Apple to respect the election results and allow unionized employees to accelerate efforts to secure a contract at Towson’s location.

IAM bills itself as one of the largest and most diverse industrial unions in North America, representing approximately 600,000 active and retired members in the aerospace, defense, airline, rail, transit, healthcare, automotive and other industries. Logan said Apple’s victory shows that the established labor movement “is able to adapt to the needs of the self-confident, self-employed group you find in Apple stores.”

The Apple store union vote comes against a backdrop of other labor organizing efforts across the country — some of them rejected.

Amazon workers at a warehouse in New York voted to unionize in April, the first successful US organizing effort in the retail giant’s history. However, workers at another Amazon warehouse in Staten Island overwhelmingly rejected a union bid last month. Meanwhile, Starbucks employees at dozens of stores across the US voted to unionize in recent months after two of the chain’s coffee shops in Buffalo, New York, voted to unionize at the end of last year.

Many unionization efforts were led by young workers in their 20s and even into their teens. A group of Google engineers and other workers formed the Alphabet Workers Union last year, which represents about 800 Google employees and is managed by five people under the age of 35.

“This is the generation with the kind of worldview that is really different than what we’ve seen in many generations,” said CUNY’s Milkman. “They believe it.”

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