The percentage of U.S. workers represented by unions has been declining for decades, falling to 10% last year. But unions have been victorious in tech recently, attracting Apple’s retail store workers, Amazon’s warehouse workers, Microsoft’s video game testers and coders in the offices of companies like Google. Employees uninterested in tech companies’ handling of sensitive issues, including sexual harassment and military contracts, have fueled the organization’s growth in recent years.
Tech companies have turned to practices typical of more traditional unionized industries to fight back. The regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said in December that it was suing over allegations that Apple unfairly interfered with union organizing at the Atlanta store through captive audience meetings, interviewing employees and other coercive tactics. A hearing is scheduled for April. Staff ultimately backed away from plans to hold a vote in Atlanta last year.
The NLRB has said in the past that employer-led discussions can be detrimental if unions don’t infringe on workers’ rights to choose what they hear. But the committee recently reversed course after a wave of Biden administration appointees, including the agency’s top bureaucratic general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, who wrote a memo last April, Calling mandatory meetings illegal.
The PRO bill seeks to lock more union-friendly policies into law to prevent a future administration or the NLRB from overturning the Biden-era ruling. In addition to addressing mandatory audience meetings, the legislation would set new standards for defining independent contractors, which could affect many tech companies; require all union members to pay dues; and allow new forms of strikes. It would also hold executives accountable for violations of workers’ rights and allow workers to sue employers if the NLRB fails to prosecute their cases. Other provisions are broadly designed to limit the power of employers to influence organizational outcomes.
Apple’s Civick said she and her colleagues raised concerns with managers several times before considering unionizing, with little change. Their demands include more pay increases for long-tenured employees, as well as increases for employees whose multilingual skills are valuable to customers.
Most urgently, they demanded that Apple clean out the back of their stores — where repairs are performed, lunch breaks are held, and inventory is stored — to rid them of the foul stench. Civick said the area has been flooded with sewage several times over the years, and she has personally helped clean up the mess on several occasions. Mall operator Simon Property Group did not respond to a request for comment.
The Oklahoma City store is the second unionized Apple store after the International Association of Machinists and the Aerospace Workers union represent Towson, Maryland. Several other stores, including in Des Moines, Iowa and New York City, have discussed unionizing, according to the Communications Workers of America labor group, which helps workers in those areas. Momentum, “Honestly, it’s just getting started,” Siwick said.
The PRO Act requires mediation and arbitration to help resolve contract disputes, but it may not solve all of Civick’s and other workers’ problems. The Oklahoma City union is still waiting for Apple to schedule a negotiating meeting to finalize their first contract. Companies sometimes hope that the delay will weaken support for the newly formed union or lead to its dissolution altogether. Civick said that doesn’t happen in her store. “We’re still completely overworked and understaffed, and Apple hasn’t done much to improve either.”
Leave a Reply