Apple’s ‘Union-Busting’ Tactics Raising Concerns Among Members of Congress

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Over the past year or so, Apple appears to have been locked in a passive-aggressive struggle with many of its retail workforces throughout the United States. As workers at multiple Apple Stores explore the possibility of unionizing for collective bargaining with the tech giant, Apple’s management has taken the kind of approach to dissuade employee solidarity that’s so common among big companies that it’s become a cliché — and now it’s gotten the attention of some lawmakers.

It’s behavior that seems unbecoming for a company that spends so much time priding itself on diversity and inclusion, but it’s also a stark reminder that at the end of the day, business is business — and Apple is a $3 trillion business.

From Starbucks to Apple, the union-busting playbook used by unimaginably wealthy corporations is always the same—isolate, intimidate, fire, and silence.

Claude Cummings Jr., Vice President, Communications Workers of America, District 6.

To be fair, Apple is a kinder and gentler employer than many other large tech companies. It’s managed to avoid the mass layoffs of thousands that have plagued Google, Meta, and Microsoft, and Apple CEO Tim Cook, who voluntarily took a 40% pay cut last year, still considers layoffs to be a “last resort”. Meanwhile, Google CEO Sundar Pichai pocketed $226 million last year, becoming one of the highest-paid CEOs in America, in stark contrast to the 12,000 jobs the company cut in January.

Still, none of this means that Apple shouldn’t be trying to do better, and it certainly doesn’t justify the unfair labor practices that Apple has allegedly been engaging in over the past year.

Apple Stores and Unions

Apple’s official stance seems to be one of convincing its employees that it can take better care of them if they don’t unionize. In response to a growing movement among its retail workers, it’s tried to make this point by handing out pay raises, increasing vacation days, sick days, and paid leave, and making work schedules more flexible.

While some of these moves should have arguably been made more proactively — without the threat of unionization hanging over Apple’s corporate head — they’re positive moves by the company nonetheless and entirely fair game as a way for Apple to win over the hearts and minds of its employees.

However, it seems that’s far from all Apple has been up to. The company has also done some significantly negative things that could easily be construed as “union-busting” measures, and that’s exactly how the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) sees it.

It’s probably telling that out of several Apple Stores across the country where employees have sought to unionize, efforts have succeeded thus far at only a single store in Maryland. While the negotiations currently underway at that location have raised a few eyebrows with the suggestion that Apple should encourage customers to tip employees, that’s really just muddying the waters; most of what the workers union is asking for seems otherwise reasonable.

However, the Towson, Maryland location may be the one store that’s succeeded, but it doesn’t mean others haven’t been trying. However, according to the NLRB, workers have been stymied by Apple’s management engaging in illegal labor practices.

In March, the Communications Workers of America union (CWA) filed charges with the NLRB accusing Apple of intimidating workers at stores in Houston, Texas, and Kansas City, Missouri, and even firing some workers who were union activists, which the CWA said was a retaliatory move. Apple’s position was that the terminated workers were let go for poor performance, such as tardiness and making errors in timesheets.

“Apple management said I was fired for a typo in my timesheet that I had documented and tried to correct. Yet, it is clear the real reason I was fired was for exercising my right to organize and win a protected voice on the job. Apple then attempted to silence me by having me sign a release in order to receive my severance package. No one working at Apple should be interrogated, intimidated, or silenced for trying to organize and win our fair share.”
D’lite Xiong, former Kansas City, Mo., Apple retail worker.

In December, the NLRB determined that Apple had broken the law by conducting mandatory “captive audience” meetings with employees about to vote on whether to form a union. In a statement sent to Bloomberg, the CWA, which filed the original complaint, referred to these meetings as “not only union-busting, but an example of psychological warfare.”

While the NLRB hasn’t previously taken issue with companies requiring employees to attend mandatory meetings prior to union elections, NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said she considers them “coercive and in violation of the law.”

That same month, Apple was accused of creating a fake “pseudo-union” at a store in Ohio in an attempt to sway users away from joining a real one. CWA claimed that Apple was “soliciting employees to join an employer-created / employer-dominated labor organization as a means of stifling union activities.”

Now, it seems that all this drama has come to the attention of at least two members of Congress. Reps. Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO) and Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) have penned a joint open letter to the NLRB, expressing “concern about the recent allegations at Apple Retail stores.”

“At the Country Club Plaza store in Kansas City, workers report being disciplined and fired for union activity, under the guise of tardiness. It is reported that one worker involved in the organizing campaign was punished for being an average of 1 minute late for their shift. Later the worker along with four other employees were fired for attendance related reasons, when prior to the start of the union drive, it was “uncommon for anyone to be terminated for violating attendance policy.”
Reps. Emanual Cleaver and Sylvia Garcia, in an open letter to the NLRB.

The two house representatives are calling for the NLRB to “thoroughly investigate [the] serious allegations” of unfair labor practices at the Country Club Plaza Apple Store in Kansas City and the Memorial City store in Houston, noting that “under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), employees are guaranteed the right to organize and bargain collectively free from interference, intimidation and coercion from their employers,” and yet “the NLRB [has] already found Apple infringed upon worker rights earlier this year.”

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