Apple workers at the Maryland store vote to organize in a union, a first in the US

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Apple employees at a Baltimore-area store have voted to organize, becoming the first of the company’s more than 270 stores across the United States to join a trend toward work organization that’s spreading across retailers, restaurants and tech companies.

The result, announced by the National Labor Relations Board on Saturday, provides a foothold for a burgeoning movement among Apple retail workers who want more say over wages and Covid-19 policies. Employees at more than two dozen Apple Stores have expressed an interest in unionizing in recent months, union leaders say.

In the election, 65 employees at the Towson, Maryland Apple store voted to be represented by the union known as the Apple Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, while 33 voted against. It becomes part of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, an industrial union representing over 300,000 workers.

“I applaud the courage shown by CORE members at the Apple Store in Towson to achieve this historic victory,” Robert Martinez Jr., president of IAM International, said in a statement. “They made a huge sacrifice for the thousands of Apple employees across the country who had all eyes on this election.”

Tyra Reeder, a technical specialist who has been working at the Towson branch for just over six months, said she was “thrilled” with the result and hoped a union would help increase workers’ compensation; to stabilize business planning, which has been impacted by recent Covid-19 cases; and make it easier for employees to advance within the company.

“We love our jobs. We just want them to do better,” Ms. Reeder said.

The result is a blow to Apple’s campaign to blunt union movements, arguing that it pays more than many retailers and offers a range of benefits, including health care and stock subsidies. Last month, starting wages for retail workers were increased from $20 to $22 an hour and a video was released by Deirdre O’Brien, who runs Apple retail operations, warning workers that joining a union is bad for the business could harm the company.

Apple declined to comment.

Staff at Towson said in a Video produced by the More Perfect Union website before the union vote that Apple’s anti-union campaign there was “evil” and that management told workers that the unions had once banned black employees from joining their ranks. In the weeks leading up to the vote, Ms O’Brien visited the store and thanked everyone for their hard work.

Soon after, employees said their managers began encouraging employees to raise their concerns in meetings and help find solutions to their grievances. They also began dragging employees into one-on-one meetings where managers highlighted the cost of union dues, said Eric Brown, a Towson employee who champions the union effort.

Earlier this month, employees at an Atlanta store called off a planned election when support for the union faltered after Apple’s efforts to raise wages and highlight the benefits on offer. Atlanta union organizers have filed a formal complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing Apple of requiring workers to listen to anti-union messages during mandatory meetings. The board has not yet decided whether the charges are justified.

Ms. Reeder said workers in Atlanta helped prepare union supporters at the Towson store to defuse the company’s talking points. “We got some insight into things to come from the Atlanta deal,” she said, citing the company’s suggestions that employees could lose certain benefits during contract negotiations if they unionize.

“A majority of us must agree to this,” added Ms. Reeder. “I don’t think any of us would agree to losing something we love dearly that benefits us.”

At Starbucks, one of the companies where organizers have gained the most momentum, employees credited an organizing vote at a Buffalo store with helping spur other stores to run for union elections. Since that December vote, more than 150 of the company’s approximately 9,000 company-owned stores in the US have voted to unionize, according to the NLRB

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

“Workers gain interest and courage when workers assert themselves elsewhere,” said William Gould, a Stanford University law professor and author of For Labor to Build On: Wars, Depression and Pandemic. “Many are looking to see: Can workers succeed? Will they team up? If the answer is affirmative, this will encourage other workers to take a step towards collective bargaining.”

Workers’ ability to win a contract may depend on whether the campaign spreads to other stores. Union supporters at Starbucks have said that one of their biggest sources of influence over the company is the fact that they continue to win elections across the country.

Amazon workers who helped unionize a Staten Island warehouse in April have also said they would benefit if other warehouses followed suit. The company challenged the result of this vote before the working committee. Since only one US location is formally unionized, the company can focus its resources on taking action against the union there.

Apple employees are also organizing at the Grand Central Terminal Store in New York and a store in Louisville, Kentucky. These stores build support before asking for an election. The organizers in Atlanta have announced that they will revive their choice in the future.

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