Apple Store Employees Are Organizing in Atlanta and New York, Raising Union Pressure in Tech

Apple's employees are pushing for higher wages. The moves follow recent union organizing at Amazon.

Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
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Apple's retail stores are known for focusing on customer experience. But some employees say Apple needs to rethink its approach to compensation.

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Employees from at least two of Apple's retail stores have begun to publicly discuss union efforts, suggesting a potential foothold for organized labor at the tech giant. Though the announcements, which came by way of a website posting for workers in New York and a press release for those in Atlanta, represent a tiny portion of Apple's more than 500 retail stores, the potential votes could signal a cultural shift at one of the world's most highly valued companies.

The organizers behind the efforts at both stores are citing wages as a key issue. Fruit Stand Workers United, the organizers at Apple's Grand Central Terminal store in New York affiliating with Workers United, said they seek pay of $30 per hour for all workers, "built up on a matrix based on role, tenure, and performance." They're also asking for more tuition reimbursement, more vacation time and better retirement benefits.

"Grand Central is an extraordinary store with unique working conditions that make a union necessary to ensure our team has the best possible standards of living in what have proven to be extraordinary times with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and once-in-a-generation consumer price inflation," the group said.

Employees in an Atlanta store, meanwhile, said they've filed with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election, with over 70% of the more than 100 eligible workers having signed union authorization cards. They'd be represented by the Communications Workers of America.

An Apple spokesman said in a statement that the company offers "very strong compensation and benefits" for full-time and part-time employees. "We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple," the spokesman said.

The union drives mark the latest in a series of organizing efforts that have rippled across the retail and tech worlds. Amazon employees at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, voted to join the Amazon Labor Union earlier this month, a first in the US. Workers at more than 150 US Starbucks locations have requested union elections, as have employees affiliated with Google and game maker Activision Blizzard, which is in the process of being bought by Microsoft for $68.7 billion

Employees often cite working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, with front-line workers and others raising concerns about potential exposure to the fast-moving virus

Workers also are emboldened by the Great Resignation, a phenomenon in which record numbers of Americans are quitting their jobs amid historic labor shortages, for better pay and more-flexible benefits. Economists say demographic changes, including the retiring baby boomer population as well as low birthrates in recent years, will likely continue the trend.

In response to the Great Resignation, many companies have begun raising their wages, including within the tech industry. Apple and other companies also have given out bonuses in efforts to keep employees on board.

Apple's Grand Central store.

Apple's Grand Central store.


Share in success

Employees organizing at Apple note the company's record profits, which rose to $34.6 billion during last year's holiday shopping season, built largely on demand for the iPhone 13 line, newly redesigned Mac laptops and desktops, and iPads. Some employees say that success hasn't trickled down to the company's workforce.

Like employees in Apple's New York store, workers at the company's Cumberland Mall shop in Atlanta are seeking higher pay, Bloomberg Law reported Wednesday. The group says employees at the store don't make a living wage for Atlanta, which data collected by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology pegs at just under $31 an hour for a single parent with one child.

"Right now, I think, is the right time because we simply see momentum swinging the way of workers," Derrick Bowles, a Cumberland Apple store worker and organizing committee member told Bloomberg Law. "As we sat back and re-evaluated, what we realized is that we love being at Apple -- and leaving Apple, that's not something any of us wants to do. But improving it is something we wanted to do."

Apple hasn't yet said whether it will voluntarily recognize the unions, which would be an unusual move among companies. Amazon, for example, was criticized by a US court for its tactics pushing back against union organizing in Alabama.

"We welcome the workers who are organizing at Apple and call on the company's management to reject union busting tactics so that they can vote without interference or intimidation," Ed Barlow, president of CWA Local 3204 in Atlanta, said in a statement. "These workers have been indispensable during the pandemic and the high level of service and support they provide is critical to Apple's success. By having a union voice, they will be able to negotiate lasting improvements to their working conditions."