The union movement within big tech companies is reportedly gaining momentum. On Friday, an Apple store completed a vote to unionize, and there was turmoil at Amazon distribution points in Southern California. And union organizers say this is just the beginning.
For a long time, Apple’s employees were considered difficult to unionize, yet its Oklahoma City-based workers overwhelmingly joined the Communications Workers Association of America, making it one of the company’s roughly 270 U.S. employers. The second unionized store in the branch. Meanwhile, Amazon workers in San Bernardino, Calif., also organized a one-day strike on Friday, after such workplace employee activity was almost unheard of at the e-tailer, but has been unheard of during the pandemic. It’s becoming more and more common.
Amazon also faced a major test last Tuesday, when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will count the votes at a warehouse near Albany, N.Y.
And union activists are fighting other tech giants. A CWA affiliate organized at Google filed a new complaint with the NLRB this month, alleging the Alphabet unit violated the rights of its subcontracted employees.
But union activity at Apple Stores could be one of the most striking signs of labor progress in the tech world, given that Apple’s reputation is unmatched by any other company.
“For decades, modern retail has been completely immune to even the most tentative impulse to unionize,” says Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara. That’s changing.”
Apple, the world’s most valuable company by market value, has been raising wages and adding new benefits in the face of efforts by employees to unionize. In May, Apple raised its national minimum retail wage to $22 an hour. And just last week, the company released a new set of perks. But the company told its unionized employees that they would not be able to get those benefits without negotiating first.
Apple also held a series of anti-union meetings ahead of the election, according to the CWA, which represents workers in industries including media, tech, aviation and healthcare. In its complaint to the NLRB, the CWA said management threatened employees and said it was futile to try to organize them.
But when the NLRB counted the votes Friday night, the picture was not rosy. 56 workers supported the creation of a union, while 32 voted against it. CWA is now ready to negotiate on behalf of the employees, who work in Penn Square, an upscale shopping mall in Oklahoma City. The Towson, Maryland, store became Apple’s first unionized retail store last June, and the workers helped the Oklahoma City store with advice on how to handle the election.
In response to Friday’s vote, Apple said the company believes “open, direct and collaborative relationships” with employees are the best way to serve customers and workers themselves.
Apple, based in Cupertino, California, said: “We are proud to aso digital marketing offer our team members great compensation and exceptional benefits. Since 2018, we have increased our starting salary rate in the U.S. by 45%, and we have also Numerous major improvements to industry-leading benefits, including new education and family support programs.”
The company has made clear its opposition to unionizing. In a video address to employees in the spring, Apple warned against putting “another organization in the middle of our relationship.” In that speech, Deirdre O’Brien, the company’s senior vice president, described the union as “an organization that has no in-depth knowledge of Apple or our business, and most importantly, I don’t believe. It will make a stronger commitment to you, just like we do.”
The CWA called Apple’s response an act of intimidation, comparing it to the actions of Starbucks Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. to bring down the union. Sara Steffens, secretary and treasurer of the CWA, said in a statement: “Workers see these tactics for what they are, and businesses are desperately trying to prevent workers from having a real say in their working conditions. Money can’t compare to workers who are ready to claim their power.”
She also said that Apple retail employees will continue to organize across the U.S. “especially after this big win.” It’s unclear which Apple Store might be next to try the election. Voting at an Atlanta store was canceled after the union claimed pressure from Apple prevented a fair election. The New York City store could also be a key battleground for the union.
And at Amazon, company management is battling union movements across the country. In recent days, workers at a warehouse in California’s Moreno Valley, about 20 miles from the San Bernardino site, have submitted papers to join the nascent Amazon union.
Workers at New York’s Staten Island warehouse voted to unionize in April, but the company is seeking to overturn that result. The union suffered a defeat in a follow-up election at a smaller facility nearby.
Dozens of workers at the San Bernardino facility staged a one-day strike on Friday, demanding better working conditions and a $5-an-hour raise. Holding signs and chanting slogans demanding the company raise wages, they marched in front of the facility, which employs more than 1,500 people. On weekdays, many workers at the facility are responsible for loading and unloading cargo onto and off planes.
The workers said they would give Amazon a deadline of Oct. 10 for the company to raise starting wages to around $22 an hour. Daniel Rivera, 28, who took part in the strike, said he received a $1-an-hour raise in September, bringing his hourly earnings to $18.50.
“Even with a $1-an-hour increase, it’s still very hard for us to live on,” he said. Amazon workers at facilities in Atlanta and Chicago staged similar protests earlier this week demanding higher wages .
Amazon said wages at its U.S. facilities range from $16 to $26 an hour, depending on the job title and location. Employee benefits include health insurance and a 401(k) retirement plan, the company said in a statement.
“We’re always listening and working to improve the experience, and we’ve also offered compensation packages that not only include generous compensation, but also We are proud of the comprehensive benefits offered to regular full-time employees.”
In addition to companies in the tech industry, companies from other industries also face unions. Take Starbucks, for example, where union campaigners turned an initial victory at a Buffalo store in New York into hundreds of successful votes across the country,buy app reviews illustrating the huge motivating effect a victory can have. The union movement has also won within businesses like Trader Joe’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill, chains that previously appeared to be union off limits. The victories are landmark events for the long-shrinking U.S. union, although securing an actual collective bargaining agreement could take months or years.