Apple Store Workers in Maryland Vote to Unionize, a First in the United States

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According to the New York Times, employees at an Apple store in the Baltimore area have voted to unionize, making it the first of the company’s 270-plus stores in the United States to join a labor organizing trend sweeping through retailers, restaurants, and technology companies.

The outcome, announced by the National Labor Relations Board on Saturday, provides a foundation for a growing movement among Apple retail employees who want a stronger voice over wages and Covid-19 policies.

More than a dozen Apple store employees have expressed interest in unionizing in recent months, according to union leaders.

In the election, 65 employees at Apple’s Towson, Maryland, store voted to be represented by the union, known as the Apple Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, while 33 voted against it.

It will become a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, an industrial trade union with over 300,000 members.

Tyra Reeder, a technical specialist who has worked at the Towson store for about six months, said she was “elated” with the outcome and hoped that a union would help increase workers’ compensation, stabilize the store’s scheduling, which has been strained by recent Covid-19 cases, and make it easier for workers to advance within the company.

The result is a setback for Apple’s campaign to discourage unionization by claiming that it pays more than many retailers and offers a variety of benefits such as health care and stock grants.

Apple raised the starting wage for retail employees to $22 an hour, up from $20, and released a video of Apple retail leader Deirdre O’Brien warning employees that joining a union could harm the company’s business.

Apple has refused to comment.

Employees in Towson said in a video produced by the website More Perfect Union ahead of the union vote that Apple’s anti-union campaign in the city was “nasty,” with management telling workers that unions once barred black employees from joining their ranks.

According to Eric Brown, a Towson employee involved in the union effort, they also began to pull employees into one-on-one meetings where managers highlighted the cost of union dues.

Employees at an Atlanta store abandoned a planned election earlier this month after support for the union dwindled following Apple’s moves to raise wages and highlight the benefits it provided.

Atlanta union organizers have filed a formal complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing Apple of forcing employees to listen to anti-union messages during mandatory meetings.

The board has yet to decide whether the charge is valid.

Workers in Atlanta, according to Ms. Reeder, assisted in preparing union supporters at the Towson store to defuse the company’s talking points. “We kind of got some insight from the Atlanta store on things that were coming,” she said, referring to the company’s suggestions that employees might lose certain benefits during a contract negotiation if they unionized.

Employees at Starbucks, one of the companies where organizers have gained the most traction, credited a vote to organize at a Buffalo store with spurring other stores to file for union elections.

According to the N.L.R.B., more than 150 of the company’s roughly 9,000 corporate-owned stores in the United States have voted to unionize since the December vote.

Workers at stores that later unionized sought advice from employees in Buffalo on how to navigate the process.

“Workers gain interest and courage if workers elsewhere prevail,” said William Gould, a Stanford University law professor and author of “For Labor to Build Upon: Wars, Depression, and Pandemic.” “If the answer is affirmative, it will encourage other workers to take a step toward collective bargaining.” Workers’ ability to win a contract may be dependent on whether the campaign spreads to other stores.

Starbucks union supporters have stated that one of their most powerful levers against the company is the fact that they continue to win elections across the country.

Amazon employees who assisted in the unionization of a Staten Island warehouse in April said they would benefit if more warehouses followed suit.

The outcome of that vote is being challenged by the company before the labor board. With only one formally unionized location in the United States, the company can concentrate its resources on opposing the union there.

Employees at Apple’s Grand Central Terminal store in New York and a store in Louisville, Kentucky are also organizing. Those stores are gathering support before calling for an election.

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