Withdrawing the election request will cause at least a six-month delay in planning.
The Communications Workers of America (CWA) has decided to call off a formal vote on unionization for Apple Store employees at Atlanta’s Cumberland Mall location less than a week before its scheduled date. The union, which has recently invested extensively in organizing tech workers, decided to hold back as a result of what it called “Apple’s persistent violations of the National Labor Relations Act,” as first reported by Bloomberg.
The move comes after weeks of rising tensions between Apple and its retail employees. Shortly after Cumberland announced its intentions, it was revealed that Apple had hired Littler Mendelson, the same law firm that has been retained by Starbucks, which is suffering a wave of store unionizations. “We thrive at union avoidance,” according to the firm’s website. Shortly after, Apple’s corporate office began distributing anti-union talking lines to managers, and Atlanta employees claim they were forced to attend so-called “captive audience sessions,” which are common in union-busting activities. Audio of Apple VP Deirdre O’Brien explaining why she believes a union is a bad fit for the corporation was released earlier this week. This memo was purportedly issued to Apple’s 65,000 retail employees.
Apple’s activities, according to CWA, “have rendered a free and fair election impossible.” COVID cases among the store’s employees, according to the group, might threaten their capacity to vote in person.
Simple economics was one of the most important factors in Cumberland employees’ choice to unionize. Elli Daniels, one of the store’s employees, told Engadget about stagnating salaries that had failed to keep up with either national inflation or local cost-of-living hikes. Apple has been one of the few firms to prosper in the face of a pandemic, posting many record-breaking quarters in a row.
Apple has announced that wages will be increased to a starting wage of $22 per hour, possibly to prevent discontent among retail workers (Cumberland is only one of the outlets now investigating unionization). In a statement released today, Apple said, “We are proud to offer exceptionally good compensation and benefits for full-time and part-time employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, annual stock grants, and many other advantages.” (Incidentally, the wage raise was announced some hours after the aforementioned union-avoidance audio was released to the press.)
While the withdrawal is a setback, it does not stop CWA from seeking another union election in the future — but it will have to wait at least six months to do so.