Apple, long seen as invulnerable to unions, saw its staff in Oklahoma City vote overwhelmingly to join the CWA.
The labor movement is gaining momentum at big tech companies, with an Apple Inc. store voting to unionize Friday and unrest spreading through Amazon.com Inc. distribution sites in Southern California. Organizers say it’s just the beginning.
Apple, long seen as invulnerable to unions, saw its staff in Oklahoma City vote overwhelmingly to join the Communications Workers of America, becoming the second store to unionize among the company’s roughly 270 U.S. outlets. Meanwhile, Amazon workers walked off the job Friday in San Bernardino, California, the kind of workplace mobilization that used to be almost unheard of at the e-tailer but became increasingly common during the lockdown. pandemic.
Amazon faces a major test Tuesday when the US National Labor Relations Board is scheduled to count votes for an election at a warehouse near Albany, New York.
Labor activists are also taking the fight to other tech giants. A CWA affiliate at Google filed the latest in a series of complaints with the NLRB this month accusing the Alphabet Inc. unit of violating the rights of its outsourced staff. But unionization at Apple stores, with their gleaming layouts and prominent locations, could become one of the most prominent symbols of the tech workforce’s forays.
“For decades, the modern retail industry has been completely immune to even the most faltering union push,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “Now that is changing.”
Apple, the world’s most valuable company, has been raising wages and adding new benefits in the face of unionization efforts. In May, Apple raised its national minimum retail wage to $22 an hour. Last week, the company announced a set of new benefits, but told its unionized employees that they would not receive the benefits without negotiating first.
The CWA, which represents workers in industries ranging from media and technology to airlines and health care, alleged that Apple also held a large number of anti-union meetings in the run-up to the election. Management threatened staff, the CWA said in a complaint to the NLRB, saying the organization would be useless.
But when the NLRB counted the ballots Friday night, it wasn’t close: Fifty-six workers supported the union, with 32 voting against it. The CWA is now ready to negotiate on behalf of the staff, whose store is located in Oklahoma City’s upscale Penn Square Mall. The first Apple store to unionize was in Towson, Maryland, last June, and those workers helped advise the Oklahoma City location on how to handle the election.
In response to Friday’s vote, Apple said it believed an “open, direct and collaborative relationship” with employees was the best way to serve customers and workers themselves.
“We are proud to provide our team members with strong compensation and exceptional benefits,” the Cupertino, California-based company said. “Since 2018, we have increased our initial rates in the US by 45% and have made many significant improvements to our industry-leading benefits, including new educational and family support programs.”
The company has made clear its opposition to unions. Apple warned against putting “another organization in the middle of our relationship” in a spring video message to employees. In that speech, Senior Vice President Deirdre O’Brien described a union as “an organization that doesn’t have a deep understanding of Apple or our business and, more importantly, one that I don’t think shares our commitment to you.” .
The CWA describes Apple’s response as intimidation, comparing it to moves by Starbucks Corp. and Amazon to reject unionization.
“Workers are seeing these tactics for what they are: desperate attempts to prevent them from having a real say in their working conditions,” CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens said in a statement. “Money is no match for workers who are ready to reclaim their power.”
Apple retail workers will continue to organize across the country, he said, “especially after this momentous victory.” It’s unclear which Apple store could be the next to attempt a pick. A vote at a store in Atlanta was scrapped, with the union saying pressure from Apple prevented a fair election. Locations in New York City could also be key battlegrounds.
At Amazon, management is facing union campaigns across the country. In recent days, workers at a warehouse in Moreno Valley, California, about 20 miles from the San Bernardino site, filed papers to join the new Amazon Workers Union.
Workers at a Staten Island warehouse in New York voted in April to join the union, but the company is seeking to overturn the results. The union lost a subsequent election at a smaller facility nearby.
Dozens of workers at the San Bernardino facility, an airline hub, took part in the one-day walkout Friday, demanding better working conditions and raises of $5 an hour. Carrying banners and chanting “Living wages now,” they marched in front of the facility, which employs more than 1,500 people. Many of the workers at the site load and unload cargo planes.
The workers said they gave Amazon a deadline of Oct. 10 to raise starting wages to around $22 an hour. Daniel Rivera, 28, who participated in the strike, said he received a $1 an hour raise in September that brought his hourly earnings to $18.50.
“Even with the dollar rising, it’s not a living wage for us,” he said. Amazon workers at facilities near Atlanta and Chicago staged similar protests earlier in the week demanding better wages.
Amazon said wages at its US facilities range from $16 to $26 an hour, depending on the role and location. Employee benefits include medical coverage and 401(k) retirement plans, the company said in a statement.
“While we are always listening and working on ways to improve the experience, we are proud to offer compensation packages that not only include excellent pay, but also provide comprehensive benefits for regular full-time employees,” the spokeswoman said Friday. Mary Kate Paradise.
Tech companies aren’t the only ones facing an emboldened labor movement. At Starbucks, union activists turned an initial victory in Buffalo, New York, into hundreds of successful votes across the country, illustrating how exhilarating a victory can be. The labor movement also won victories at Trader Joe’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., other chains that previously seemed off limits.
Those victories represent historic events for the US labor movement that has long shrunk, even if real collective bargaining agreements may take months or years to come.
Patrick Hart, Apple’s campaign leader in Oklahoma City, said he is now eager to advise other Apple stores on how to get organized.
“I want this to become a labor movement,” he said. “We’re going to be that catalyst for people.”