Doc. The New York Times

Apple Store Showdown: Inside The Coalition Battle

Sidney Rhodes’s frustration was growing. He sat at a conference table in his hotel across from an Apple store he worked at in Atlanta, listening to his boss’s offer to thank his dozen co-workers for charging more than the other workers. retail.

It was one of a series of topics he made at an offline meeting this month before voting on whether a store would join Communications Workers of America. Rose, 26, a union organizer, thought Apple was losing about $ 4 an hour that it paid other stores.

Prior to her latest update, she sustained herself by moving from a part-time job helping iPhone customers to a second job delivering Amazon packages to three-shift FedEx boxes. She supported unions because she believed unions could raise hourly wages and significantly increase full-time opportunities for part-time employees.

In April, a phone call from Rhodes helped mobilize support for trade union elections for 70% of employees in more than 100 stores. However, as his boss was about to dine at the Sheraton, he felt that Ji-won was starting to fight.

“Whenever someone asks me a question, they give us an opinion about a union that doesn’t apply to us at all,” he said.

The exchange gained a competitive advantage, spreading to approximately 272 Apple Stores in the United States. After 20 years of redefining retail with elegant architecture and concierge technical support, Apple is addressing the latest trend in the industry: organized work.

Starbucks, REI and Dollar General unions swelled as employees became fatigued by the pressures of inflation and the risk of an epidemic. The pressures exerted by these forces have also destabilized the tech sector, helping employees, backed by a tight labor market, to win union support in the video game industry and Amazon warehouse on Staten Island.

Rhodes and his colleagues were supposed to be the first Apple Store to vote to join the union on Thursday. But at the end of last week the elections were suspended. Apple stores in Toson, Maryland and New York City’s Greater Central Station are expected to vote in the coming weeks, and more than 20 other stores have also expressed interest in the rule, union leaders said.

The trade union movement surprised Apple executives as they tried to foster love for Apple among employees and customers. The merger could end 20 years of perfecting the Apple brand with a happy salesman selling a $ 1,000 phone. The company also suggested it would increase operating costs and possibly hinder new product launches.

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Apple hired the Littler Mendelson labor law firm to ease the pressure at work. It also provided key elements for store managers, including, as Vice previously reported, the combination of reduced promotions and tight working hours. Last week, leaders urged workers not to join unions and said they would raise wages from $ 20 to $ 22 an hour.

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Apple’s senior vice president of retail, Deirdre O ‘Brien, told the company’s approximately 65,000 retail employees in a video: The video was previously reported from The Verge.

Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock declined to interview O ‘Brien and Alex Burroughs, managers of Cumberland Mall, about 10 miles from downtown Atlanta. And employees who were neutral or opposed to union pressure were reluctant to interview the New York Times.

In a statement, Rosenstock said the company has provided numerous benefits to its retail employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, and family vacations. “We deeply appreciate everything you do for Apple “, she said.

Apple has resisted union pressure, even as online orders undermined the store ‘s importance. According to technology research firm Loup Ventures, about 6% of Apple’s sales come from retail, about half the pre-pandemic level.

Although the store’s financial significance has diminished, Ms. Rhodes’ employees see the stores as Apple’s physical connection to the rest of the world. She started working for Apple because she loved Apple products. When she was 16, she bought her first iPhone with the money she earned working at McDonald’s. She became obsessed with the company and attended an hour long product event to increase his interest in “the way things work”.

In 2018, she impressed store technicians with her knowledge of the Apple Watch, then managers encouraged her to apply for her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. He later moved to Atlanta and moved to the Cumberland Mall store located between Bath & Body Works and Pandora Jewelery.

Rhodes said he was grateful that the company was one of the first to send employees home during the pandemic. Store manager at the time, Frank Howard, said Cumberland Mall employees were paid for months without work. Apple later asked them to ship computers and provide technical support and remote sales.

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The return to stores after the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine caused discontent with the management. Rhodes and other union regulators said Apple dropped the mask requirements for employees and customers just before Christmas and that many employees contracted Covid-19.

Rhodes said Apple, which increased sales to $ 95 billion in fiscal 2021, “suffered from Covid and made a lot of money.” “Why don’t we get more money? ”

Derek Bowles, who works with Ms. Rhodes in Atlanta, was listening to a podcast about the union’s efforts at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. The salary increase for his job as a genius engineer is limited to 2%, which is not enough to keep up with inflation. Imagining that he was earning 15 cents less an hour after inflation, he called the American telecommunications workers and started organizing a trade union movement.

man. Bowles first recruited his fellow veterans. After spending a decade at Apple, he said he knows how much retail support is dwindling as perks like renting an entire bowling alley for a party in 2010 turned into Christmas gifts like backpacks. Bowles said employees received a hard copy of Apple’s Retail Principles for heavyweight card stock and T-shirts within a year.

“The following year we stopped accepting Christmas gifts,” he said.

He said Rhodes was initially skeptical, but he was ready to join the union. She recently got promoted full time and earns $ 26 an hour, but she was only promoted full time after a colleague with 14 years of experience left. Most of her colleagues worked part-time and worked less than 30 hours a week. We think unions could help create more full-time employment opportunities.

They have created a message outlining their goals, including fair compensation, professional development opportunities, greater benefits, and a broader voice for Covid-19 related security policies. They asked their employees if they should vote for a union vote and got the support they needed twice. Mr. Bowles then handed out red bracelets that read “Stronger Together “.

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In May, store managers stepped up the fight by posting anti-union messages from employees of Grand Central Terminal stores in breakout lounges, Bowles said.

“We are not an Amazon warehouse. We do not take sick leave or bathroom breaks during the pandemic,” the employee wrote. “We are not short on manpower at Starbucks. ” He wrote that he understood the request for “more money ” but “no union and nothing guaranteed “.

According to a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board, executives also included anti-union comments in their morning employee briefings. In a statement to reporters about the meeting, Bowles said Apple was “hitting the scales”.

The pressure divided the staff. Recently, at a Cumberland Mall store on a Sunday evening, about 15 employees in blue shirts with white Apple logos appeared as customers looked at the colorful straps. None of the employees wore Stronger Toger bracelets.

Rhodes said most management stopped wearing the bracelet because he felt they had to treat it differently.

As support for Atlanta faltered, union leaders in Tucson and New York said they could still win the election. They pointed to the success of Amazon regulators in Staten Island after similar attempts failed in Bessemer.

David DeMaria, an organizer who advises employees of Towson stores on behalf of the International Association of Machine and Space Workers, said: “This is not Star Wars, where the rebels win and everything works perfectly.” “Thanks for all the information Atlanta shared to let us know what to expect. We are still in a good mood . ”

Rhodes said the coronavirus outbreak spread among some Cumberland Mall employees in the days leading up to the vote. Apple, which has not commented on the outbreak, has requested face masks at her stores. Mr. Rhodes hopes this setback will remind his colleagues of the value unions can offer by having a say in health care decisions.

Less than 24 hours later, the union organizing committee decided to suspend voting. The union said in a statement that Apple’s crackdown has created an environment of fear and coercion. Bowles said he hasn’t abandoned his campaign.

Article Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/29/technology/apple-store-union.html

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