Apple workers in Towson, Maryland vote to unionize

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Apple workers in the Baltimore area voted to join a union on Saturday, becoming the first of the tech giant’s US retail stores to do so.

The vote means that workers at the Towson, Maryland store plan to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) once the contract is ratified. Saturday night’s initial count was 65-33, and the official count was pending.

Last month, workers and IAM sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook of their intention to organize as the Organized Retail Employee Coalition — or AppleCore for short.

This vote is part of a wave of organizing sweeping the country as workers increasingly unite to demand higher wages, better benefits and more bargaining power with their employers during the pandemic. In New York, Amazon’s first warehouse voted to form a union in the spring. Dozens of Starbucks stores across the country unionized and labor movements put pressure on retailer REI and video game maker Raven Software.

Apple store in Maryland becomes third to launch union campaign

Billy Jarboe, a Towson Apple employee and union organizer, said Apple’s campaign to undermine the organizing effort “definitely shook people up,” but that most union supporters remained strong.

“It’s nice to enter a new era of this kind of work, I hope it creates a spark [and] other stores can use that momentum,” Jarboe said in a text after the vote concluded on Saturday.

Three Apple employees said the union movement had lost some supporters amid a corporate campaign to persuade workers not to organize.

“They made a lot of people waver…they definitely pulled in some people we thought were originally supportive,” said Eric Brown, who works at the Towson Apple store.

Brown said they were able to overcome these tactics because the organizers of an aborted Atlanta campaign prepared them about what to expect.

“They let us know what some of the talking points and tactics would be, and we were able to let people know some of the things they might try,” he said.

Apple spokesman Josh Lipton declined to comment after the vote.

About 20 Apple employees came to the Towson Town Center on Saturday night, some of whom were in the room during the vote count. Afterwards, said IAM spokesperson DeLane Adams, the group went to the downtown garage, clapping and celebrating with the IAM members who were in attendance.

“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 a statement following the vote. “They made a huge sacrifice for thousands of Apple employees across the country who had their eyes on this election.”

Workers at at least two other Apple Store locations are trying to get organized, including at a store in New York and one in Atlanta, which became the first location where workers filed documents with the National Labor Relations Board. But the Communications Workers of America withdrew its request for an election there last month, saying in a statement that Apple’s “repeated violations of Apple’s National Labor Relations Act made a free and fair election impossible.”

On the occasion, the organizing group sent a message to the workers of the store, saying that it would redefine and “continue this fight”.

Rebecca Givan, an associate professor of labor studies at Rutgers University, called Saturday’s result a major victory for workers in the tech and retail sectors — and in particular for Apple employees outside of Towson.

“We will certainly see Apple employees across the country reaching out to these employees to learn more about how to do this,” she said. “And understand how they won such a resounding victory.”

Several companies, including Amazon and Apple, have been accused this year of “busting unions” or employing tactics to discourage or intimidate workers from joining unions. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Employees at the Apple Store in New York this year said some employees were sidelined by managers and gave a speech about the pitfalls of unionization there. In meetings, managers warned that unionization would mean a loss of benefits, such as the ability to pass through Apple’s corporate headquarters.

From Amazon to Apple, Tech Giants Turn to Old-Fashioned Union Repression

Apple, which has more than 270 stores in the country, referred to an earlier comment it made about unionization efforts.

“We are fortunate to have amazing members on the retail team and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple,” Lipton said in a statement ahead of the vote. “We are 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 grants and many other benefits.”

Apple store in Atlanta first to file for union

Workers in Towson told The Washington Post last month they hope forming a union will give them a seat at the table on scheduling, pay, coronavirus safety measures and more. Some said Apple took too long to raise salaries and that the company needed to give individual stores more control over their scheduling systems, rather than having a corporate office handle most of it.

“I always had the gut feeling that I was putting more value on what I’m being compensated for, and that’s what Covid helped me unpack: how much anxiety I had about that,” Jarboe, an Apple employee and union organizer, said in an interview. The Post in The Hour.

“For tonight, we celebrate. We like it,” said Chaya Barrett, who works at the Towson store. “So let’s get together and figure out how we’re going to get a negotiating committee. … Even the people who voted no, we want them to be a part of these negotiations.”

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