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Apple union push faces setback as Atlanta organizers withdraw bid for vote, claiming intimidation

Shoppers walk past an Apple Store at Franklin Park Mall during Black Friday. Shoppers go to stores to take advantage of Black Friday sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stephen Zenner | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

A union vote at an Apple store at the Cumberland Mall location in Atlanta is in question after the union trying to organize the retail workers withdrew its request for an election.

The union, Communications Workers of America, alleged in a statement that Apple has violated labor laws and made a fair election impossible. In addition, CWA said that there are rising numbers of Covid cases at the store, which could prevent workers from voting safely.

The vote was previously scheduled for next week and if successful, would have been the first unionized U.S. Apple store.

The development is a setback for Apple workers’ efforts to unionize at the company’s retail stores in the U.S. In addition to the Cumberland Mall location, there are at least three other Apple stores with workers holding public union drives. A store in Maryland is scheduled to vote whether to unionize on June 15.

“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. Since then Apple has conducted a systematic, sophisticated campaign to intimidate them and interfere with their right to form a union,” a CWA representative said in a statement. “This behavior violates U.S. law, the principles of Apple’s credo and vendor code of conduct, and international human rights standards.”

“We are not moving forward with the election given what Apple’s response has been and the coercive environment they created,” the Cumberland Mall Organizing Committee said in a message to co-workers at the store.

“It’s an outrage and a shame that Apple chose to spend tens of thousands of dollars to pay a third party, outside ‘union avoidance’ law firm, abandon its professed values, and aggressively and deceitfully union bust in our store, interfering with our legal right to organize a union,” the message continued.

It said that the Atlanta store organizers will “reset” and will work with other stores to prepare them for future union drives.

Workers at the Atlanta store filed for a union drive in April, when organizers said that over 70% of the stores employees signed cards signaling interest in unionizing with CWA.

Since then, Apple has faced accusations that it is deploying anti-union tactics that break labor laws. The CWA said in a unfair labor practice filing earlier this month that said that managers at the store held “captive audience meetings,” where workers are required to attend meetings that include corporate anti-union talking points.

Earlier this week, Apple’s head of retail and HR said in part of a video distributed internally that she believed that unions would make it harder for Apple managers to respond to employee concerns, and that unions are not committed to its employees.

The Cumberland Mall organizers are asking for more more transparency in how they are paid, a commitment to diversity in management, and increased Covid safety measures for employees.

“”We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple,” an Apple representative said, saying that the company offers strong compensation and benefits.

Earlier this week, Apple announced that it was increasing starting pay for retail employees to $22 per hour. In the message to coworkers, the Cumberland Mall organizing committee said that the unplanned raises were a direct result of its organizing drive.

“Thanks to what we started here in Atlanta, Apple will be giving all employees in all stores an unplanned raise. This is because of us,” the organizing committee said in its note.

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