Apple retail employees at a number of stores across the country are quietly planning to unionize, according to a Washington Post report — spurred on by pay that hasn’t kept up with inflation even as the tech giant posts record-setting profits.
According to the Post, groups at two Apple stores have already obtained backing from major unions and are preparing to file paperwork with the National Labour Relations Board, the federal agency that handles collective bargaining and unfair labour practices. The Post’s sources, who withheld their names as the plans are still secret, said that at least a half-dozen other stores are at various other stages in the process. That’s only a handful of the approximately 270-plus retail locations that Apple runs in the United States. But each of these stores contributes substantial revenue — Apple’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings show its 500+ global retail locations made up about 36% of its $US366 ($508) billion in 2021 fiscal year revenue, the Post wrote.
The Post interviewed several Apple retail workers, who said they haven’t shared in Apple’s gluttonous gains in recent years. Pay ranges from $US17 ($24) to $US30 ($42) an hour in the U.S. depending on rank and location, plus $US1,000 ($1,388)-$US2,000 ($2,776) in annual stock, but there have not been commensurate increases to keep pace with inflation. (Inflation has risen significantly throughout 2021 and 2022, and regardless of whether it is temporary or how it affects the broader job market, workers who don’t receive raises equal to or higher than inflation get de facto pay cuts.) Meanwhile, CEO Tim Cook is rolling in lucre to the tune of $US100 ($139) million a year and the company set numerous sales records last quarter with earnings exceeding $US30 ($42) billion.
The workers who spoke with the paper noted their wages are competitive with other retail chains, but that those other employers generally aren’t worth trillions of dollars. According to the Post, some said recent retail raises handed out by Apple haven’t amounted to much and they are still making less in real terms than when they started at the company.
“I have a lot of co-workers and friends who I genuinely love and they do not make enough to get by,” one Apple retail worker, who is organising a union effort, told the Post. “They’re struggling and they’re hurting and we work for a company that has the resources to make sure that they’re taken care of.”
Throughout the U.S., a 2021 Reuters analysis showed, unionized retail workers make significantly higher wages on average than their non-union counterparts. At the end of 2019, union workers took home an average of $US730 ($1,013) a week, while non-union ones earned just over $US670 ($930). While Unionstats.com data cited by Reuters showed just 4.6% of retail workers are unionized, the win rate of union elections has increased sharply in recent years and stood at nine out of 10 in 2020. Union organisers are coming for some of the nation’s largest retailers, like Starbucks, where over 70 stores in 20 states have begun pursuing card checks.
Workers in the tech sector have faced an uphill battle, however. Apple fired Janneke Parrish, an Apple Maps product manager, in 2021 after she organised a campaign to document alleged discrimination and labour law violations. Allegations of retaliation against labour organisers are rife at companies ranging from Amazon to Google. Amazon is well known for its overtly hostile stance towards unions; while a union effort at a warehouse in Alabama failed in 2021, is once again facing historic levels of worker mobilisation.
Apple didn’t respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment on this story, but we’ll update if we hear back.