Apple employees at a Baltimore-area store have voted to unionize, making it the first of the company’s 270-plus stores in the United States to join a trend in labor organizing sweeping through retailers, restaurants and tech companies.
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 Covid-19 policies. Employees of more than two dozen Apple stores have expressed interest in unionizing in recent months, union leaders say.
In the election, roughly two-thirds of employees at Apple’s store in Towson, Md., voted in favor of being represented by the union, known as the Apple Coalition of Organized Retail Employees. It will be part of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, an industrial trade union that represents over 300,000 employees.
“I applaud the courage displayed by CORE members at the Apple store in Towson for achieving this historic victory,” said Robert Martinez Jr., president of IAM International, in a statement. “They made a huge sacrifice for thousands of Apple employees across the nation who had all eyes on this election.
The outcome is a blow to Apple’s campaign to blunt union drives by arguing that it pays more than many retailers and provides an array of benefits, including health care and stock grants. Last month, it increased starting wages for retail employees to $22 an hour, from $20, and released a video of Deirdre O’Brien, who leads Apple retail, cautioning employees that joining a union could hurt the company’s business.
Employees in Towson said in a video ahead of the union vote that Apple’s anti-union campaign there was “nasty” and included management telling workers that unions once prohibited Black employees from joining their ranks. In the weeks ahead of the vote, Ms. O’Brien visited the store and thanked everyone for their hard work.
Soon after, employees said their managers began encouraging staff to air their concerns in meetings and help come up with solutions to their grievances. They also started to pull employees into one-on-one meetings where managers highlighted the cost of union dues, said Eric Brown, a Towson employee active in the union effort.
The vote levels the score between Apple and organizers. Earlier this month, employees at a store in Atlanta abandoned a planned election when support for the union fizzled after Apple’s moves to increase wages and highlight the benefits it offered. The union organizers in Atlanta have filed a formal charge with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing Apple of requiring workers to listen to anti-union messages during mandatory meetings. The board has not yet determined if the charge has merit.
At Starbucks, one of the companies where organizers have gained the most momentum, employees credited a vote to organize at a store in Buffalo with helping to spur other stores to file for union elections. Since that vote in December, more than 150 of the company’s roughly 9,000 corporate-owned stores in the U.S. have voted to unionize, according to the N.L.R.B.
“Workers gain interest and courage if workers elsewhere prevail,” said William Gould, a law professor at Stanford University and author of “For Labor to Build Upon: Wars, Depression and Pandemic.” “Many watch to see: Can workers succeed? Will they band together? If the answer is affirmative, it will encourage other workers to take a step toward collective bargaining.”
Apple employees are also organizing at the Grand Central Terminal store in New York and a store in Louisville, Ky. Those stores are building support before they ask for an election. Organizers in Atlanta have said that they plan to revive their election in the future.