Apple retail stores have become a key part of the company's business and a case study in success. But one employee thinks Apple needs help with its management style and is trying to form a union to fix that.
Josh LowensohnFormer Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Cory Moll's only been with Apple since 2007, but in that time he's seen and heard enough to make him want to change the way the company runs its retail business.
Moll is the self-appointed leader of the Apple Retail Workers Union a labor movement seeking to band together employees at Apple's retail stores to help get better wages, and in some cases, treatment for what he describes is a job he and his fellow employees love doing, minus how it's being managed from the inside.
For outsiders, the news that Apple employees would be unhappy there might come as a surprise. Apple's retail stores, which turned 10 years old last month, remain hot places to work. Apple stores have been ranked in the top 50 best places to work by job tracker Glassdoor.com three years running, along with other accolades. Apple has even admitted that it's easier to get a job at its corporate headquarters than one of its retail stores, of which there are now more than 300 around the globe.
Last month Moll pushed the movement's site live to the Web, while informing a handful of members of the press about the effort, though it wasn't until last week that the group's identity could be affixed to anything other than an e-mail address. That changed this past Wednesday when Moll outed himself, saying the response has motivated him to become "a harbinger of change."
"I've gotten to the point where I'm not afraid of management anymore. Where I'm not afraid to step up and make this happen."
--Cory Moll, Apple Retail Workers Union
Moll, who met with CNET last week to talk about the effort, said it's still very much a work in progress. (Editor's note: the site didn't work at press time.)
"I'm not sure if I see it becoming a full global union like Industrial Workers of the World, or store-by-store like a traditional union like the UFCW or the Teamsters. That's very far off in terms of what it's going to look like," Moll said. "Initially it's just to get people talking about it, and explore ways to do away with the problems that are happening at our store."
What are those problems? Moll identified one of the largest as the disparity between part-time and full-time employees, something that he says affected him personally when attempting to get a full-time position at an Apple retail store. Getting less than a certain number of hours meant Moll, earning $14 an hour, could not make ends meet.
"I had been working full-time hours for a period of time, and usually after a certain period of time that is evaluated to see whether you become full time or not, or if a status change has to happen. As soon as I brought it up with my managers, the schedules were cut back for not just myself, but most of the people on my team to part-time hours, which are no more than 28 per week," Moll said. "That's the last time I ever brought anything to management. Because seeing what had happened, I don't need this to happen again. That solidified my motivation to see this through."
Moll says he's personally seen and heard of much worse things happening management-wise since launching a site for fellow Apple retail store employees to send in their own stories and get in touch about joining the movement. He believes, without offering evidence so far, that Apple may even be violating labor laws.
Apple did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the union efforts.
Moll said the idea to form a union struck him two years ago. Before joining Apple he'd worked for McDonalds, Wal-Mart, and hotels like Best Western. When Apple decided to open up a retail store in Madison, Wis., Moll jumped at the chance and made it into the second batch of hires for that location. Since then he's moved to San Francisco, while continuing to work for the company, in part because he enjoys working there.
"I would be remiss if I didn't reiterate we love our jobs so much. We love getting up and doing what we do," Moll said. "Some of the commenters, they say 'oh, well then just go get another job, work somewhere else,' or 'you say you love your job, but you hate your job,' There's a misconception between liking your job and liking how you're treated on your job. That's where the issue is: it's not our job, it's that management side of things."
"You can have a union of 10 people, you can have a union of 100 people. But if he thinks that he's going to organize and revolutionize all Apple retail stores, I doubt that's really going to happen," Krupin said.
Krupin's successfully negotiated more than 350 collective bargaining agreements, and says that most unions these days are seeking to bargain over so-called "contemporary" issues like how people are treated on the job. With that said, a company like Apple presents an enormous challenge when it comes to negotiating on the "traditional" issues.
"Most sophisticated companies are well aware of what the market pays, well aware of the benefit levels, and well aware of employees needs," Krupin said. "So most of these cases come down to the treatment of your supervisor, the treatment of your manager."
Krupin added that even if Moll is able to successfully band together a group of employees to form a union at one store, all they'd be able to get is the ability to negotiate.
"If a union represents the Apple retail employees it just means they sit down across the table, and if Apple is doing what they're doing now, which is being a tremendously successful retailer, there's very little a union's going to be able to do," Krupin said.
Apple has its own rights on the matter. Krupin explained that the company can do campaigning of its own, letting employees know that it's against a union. "If they do a good enough job, they'll win. If there are truly issues they won't change, then they'll lose," Krupin said.
As to whether there's been a reaction from Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., or from his store's management, Moll says that hasn't heard anything directly.
"I have a pretty good feeling that the folks in Cupertino have heard about it and are keeping their eye on it. If Steve (Jobs) or Ron Johnson wants to call and chat about it, I'd be more than happy to meet with them," Moll said. "I've gotten to the point where I'm not afraid of management anymore. Where I'm not afraid to step up and make this happen."