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Apple store approves union, the first in the U.S.

June 18, 2022 Updated Sat., June 18, 2022 at 8:56 p.m.

Workers at the Towson Town Center Apple hold their new union t-shirts on Saturday, June 18, 2022, after their store employees decided to join the International Association of Machinists Union. Theirs is the first Apple store in the U.S. to vote for union representation.  (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Tribune News Service)
Workers at the Towson Town Center Apple hold their new union t-shirts on Saturday, June 18, 2022, after their store employees decided to join the International Association of Machinists Union. Theirs is the first Apple store in the U.S. to vote for union representation. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Tribune News Service)
By Rachel Lerman, Praveena Somasundaram and Aaron Gregg Washington Post

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

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

This vote is part of an organizing wave sweeping the nation as workers increasingly band together to demand higher pay, better benefits and more negotiating leverage with their employers during the pandemic. In New York, the first Amazon warehouse voted to form a union in the spring. Dozens of Starbucks stores across the country have unionized, and labor movements have pushed into outdoor retailer REI and video game maker Raven Software.

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

“It just feels good to go into a new era of this kind of work, hopefully it creates a spark (and) the other stores can use this momentum,” Jarboe said in a text after the vote concluded Saturday.

Apple spokesman Josh Lipton declined to comment after the vote.

Workers in at least two other Apple stores are trying to organize, 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 the National Labor Relations Act have made a free and fair election impossible.”

At the time, the organizing group sent a message to workers at the store, saying it would reset and “continue this fight.”

Rebecca Givan, an associate professor of labor studies at Rutgers University, called Saturday’s outcome a big win for workers in the technology and retail sectors – and in particular for Apple employees outside Towson.

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

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

Apple Store employees in New York said this year that some workers were taken aside by managers and given a speech about the pitfalls of unionization there. In meetings, managers warned that unionization would mean the loss of benefits, such as the ability to do stints at Apple’s corporate headquarters.

Apple, which has more than 270 retail locations in the country, referred to a previous comment it’s made about the unionizing efforts.

“We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple,” Lipton said in a statement before the vote. “We are pleased to offer very strong compensation and benefits for full-time and part-time employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, annual stock grants and many other benefits.”

Workers in Towson told the Post last month that they hoped forming a union would give them a seat at the table on scheduling, pay, coronavirus safety measures and more. Some said that Apple had been too slow to increase pay, and that the company needed to give individual stores more control over their scheduling systems, rather than having a corporate office control most of it.

“I always had the intuition that I was giving away more value than I am being compensated for, and that’s what COVID helped me unpack: how much anxiety I had about that,” Apple employee and union organizer Billy Jarboe told the Post at the time.

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