Apple store employees at Atlanta’s Cumberland Mall location have decided to withdraw a formal vote for unionization. The decision was made by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) less than a week before its scheduled date. The labor union says it withdrew the election request because the iPhone maker’s repeated violations of the National Labor Relations Act have made a free and fair election impossible. The vote, which was set for June 2nd, would’ve been the first union election at an American Apple store.
“An overwhelming majority of the workers at the Cumberland Mall Store announced that they were forming a union in April and requested recognition from the company,” a CWA representative said in a statement to CNBC. “Since then, Apple has conducted a systematic, sophisticated campaign to intimidate them and interfere with their right to form a union – a behavior that violates U.S. law, the principles of Apple’s credo and vendor code of conduct, and international human rights standards.”
And in a message to co-workers at the Cumberland store, the organizing committee said they are not moving forward with the election given what Apple’s response has been and the coercive environment they created. Under National Labor Relations Board rules, a union’s decision to withdraw from an election usually means the vote is canceled and the organization would have to wait about six months before petitioning to represent the same workers again. The news is a major setback for several U.S. unions who are trying to organize the tech giant’s retail stores, Bloomberg reports.
Interestingly, Apple has been working an anti-union angle for a while. According to The Verge, the company hired anti-union lawyers and circulated anti-union messages through store managers and video messages from executives. As such the CWA filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that the tech giant held captive-audience meetings in Atlanta to push back against organizing unions. The NLRB is currently trying to make these types of practices illegal.
While these tactics were viewed as slightly aggressive, Apple did take a friendly approach to dissuade workers from unionizing. Since pay was high on the priority list for the organizers at the Atlanta store, the company raised the starting wages for retail employees by $2 an hour. But there were also several non-monetary requests published in an open letter last month. The list included better career opportunities (especially for marginalized workers) and more flexibility for civic participation and volunteering.
Although the vote at Apple’s Atlanta store was canceled, unionization efforts seem to have wide support from the company’s employees. When organizers filed to hold an election in April, more than 70% of workers signed cards supporting the move. Moreover, retail employees at Apple’s New York, Maryland, and Kentucky branches have announced similar campaigns. The CWA even said it’s been hearing from several tech giant workers around the country.
Although it seems like Apple is doing everything it can to stop its employees from unionizing, when asked about the vote, the company told BNN Bloomberg it was fortunate to have incredible retail team members, adding that it deeply values everything its workers bring to the firm.