The Apple Store Union Campaign was an effort organized by a group of Apple store employees, operating under the alias of the Apple Workers Union.
The workers launched the campaign in August 2020, in response to their concerns over wages, job security, and working conditions in Apple stores. They aimed to pressure Apple into addressing these issues, as well as to gain recognition of the union and the right to collective bargaining.
What was the Apple Store Union Campaign?
In 2012, a group of Apple store workers approached the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) to express concerns about their wages and workplace policies at Apple stores. RWDSU created the Apple Union campaign in response, aiming to address unfair wages and working conditions within the company. In addition to increases in wages and a fairer company policy, their union membership would have enabled them to bargain collectively with Apple for better health care coverage and safer working conditions.
Despite initial optimism among members of the union campaign, their efforts ultimately failed due to a number of firms employed by Apple that acted as “union busters.” They used techniques such as wrongful termination suits against members of the union movement, threats against current employees as well as intimidation tactics. Despite receiving support from celebrities like Susan Sarandon, Gwenyth Paltrow and Alec Baldwin, the RWDSU-led initiative failed when many potential union members backed away due to fear tactics resulting in insufficient support for collective bargaining with Apple.
What was the goal of the campaign?
The goal of the Apple Store Union Campaign was to establish a union presence in the Apple retail outlets in the United States. This campaign also sought to persuade other U.S. retailers, like Target, WholeFoods and Macy’s, to organize unions among their staff.
The campaign was launched by a group of employees in 2017 after their salaries and working conditions had become increasingly poor. They proposed that if they could form a union it would help ensure that they were given fair wages and workplace protections as well as improve customer service and transparency around product pricing for customers. The campaign centered on rallies outside of Apple stores in major cities including New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C., along with online activism on social media using hashtags such as #UniteForAppleStoreUnion and #AppleStoreUnion2018.
Despite the workers setting an inspiring example for organized labor by creating their own union from scratch without assistance from parent unions or existing organized labor representatives, the campaign ultimately ended without any establishment of a collective bargaining agreement between the workers and Apple management. The retail employees were unable to gain enough support within the company to make significant changes in working conditions or bring demands beyond those already addressed by local labor laws during individual negotiations with management or through litigation processes against Apple after failed negotiations with managers at various stores across different regions returned with unsatisfactory results each time.
Events Leading up to the Campaign
The Apple store union campaign made headlines in 2021 when it was announced that workers at multiple Apple stores in the United States were joining forces to form a union. This event marked the beginning of a grassroots effort to bring better wages and working conditions to Apple’s retail workers.
In this article, we will look at the events that led up to the campaign and the subsequent response from Apple.
Apple’s labor practices
The Apple Store Union Campaign was the culmination of years of challenges to the company’s labor practices, which had come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Apple’s reputation as a leader of progressive corporate culture had been challenged by repeated reports of exploitation, inadequate wages and poor working conditions in its overseas factories. Reports included allegations that workers endured long hours, hazardous chemicals and extreme temperatures in Chinese assembly lines.
In 2012, labor rights activists held an action inside the Fifth Avenue Apple Store in New York City that raised further questions about the company’s labor practices. More reports surfaced about underpaid security guards at retail stores throughout California who were subjected to racial profiling and unfair dismissal policies. In 2013, after four years of campaigning from local unions and community organizations, Germany became the first country to recognize Apple retail employees with a collective bargaining agreement.
The pressure for change continued to mount internationally and in 2015, activist firm United Voice (former SEIU-USWW) launched a global union campaign calling on Apple to recognize its retail workers as employees with trade union representation. During 2016, major protests and strikes erupted at several retail stores across Europe while hundreds of workers held rallies across the U.S., ultimately leading to an historic settlement with Apple at the end of the year to recognize their right to bargain collectively over workplace issues such as wages, hours and working conditions.
The rise of the “gig economy”
Over the past decade, there has been a rapid growth in the number of people finding work from short-term contract or freelance work, or what is commonly referred to as the “gig economy”. This increasing flexibility in working hours often leaves workers feeling more empowered and able to take on more jobs to supplement their income. However, with this also comes an increased risk of exploitation, with workers not being granted rights such as sick pay and holidays due to their uncertain working status.
This was certainly true for many Apple store employees around the world. In 2017, a small group of employees in Australia launched a campaign called the ‘Apple Right Care’ movement which aimed to provide greater rights and protection for Apple store employees. Their initial goal was to gain recognition by Apple that they deserved basic rights such as sick pay and holidays but faced backlash from Apple’s management who refused to engage with them on any meaningful level. The campaign went viral, generating support from over thirty countries worldwide and inspiring other store employees across the world to join their cause.
This led up to a global unionization effort of Apple store workers later that year. The campaign sparked wide debate about restoring labor protections for gig workers—those engaged in short-term work or freelance jobs—earning them widespread international attention but ultimately failing acknowledgement from Apple themselves.
The Apple Store Union Campaign was a landmark moment in the United States’ struggle for improved labor rights and fair wages. This campaign aimed to bring unionization to Apple’s retail stores and was the largest of its kind in the tech industry.
In the wake of this movement, workers were presented with the opportunity to negotiate pay and better work conditions as they had never been able to before. In order to better understand what happened to this historic campaign, let’s take a closer look at the details of the campaign and its aftermath.
The workers’ demands
In May 2018, hundreds of workers at several Apple retail stores began organizing a union to present their demands to the company and to protect their jobs. The workers, who are primarily paid odd commissions and a flat community rate, complained that they have grown discontent with the conditions of their employment, including low wages, long hours, and strained working conditions. The efforts of the union were further heightened when Apple CEO Tim Cook sent out a memo requesting that all Apple stores implement new rules censoring political commentary in June 2018. This set off a wave of criticism from many of the same workers organizing the union and reignited their campaign for better pay and better working conditions.
The specific demands around which the union coalesced focused on improved compensation plans as well as improved communications between management and employees. These demands pushed for an adjustment in commissions so they more accurately reflected how workers were compensated for different roles within stores; greater flexibility in hours worked; fairer scheduling practices; proper job security; and comprehensive training classes. Furthermore, workers asked for frequent meetings between store managers throughout Europe to discuss job satisfaction issues as well as open channels of communication between management and employees.
Ultimately, despite heavy resistance from management at some stores as well as opposition from Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, many stores saw some minor improvements like higher wages for existing employees — though it is uncertain how much influence the organized efforts by store-level union members had on this decision-making process at Apple’s corporate level due to lack of direct negotiations between high-level executives and the broader employee body.
In 2019, a group of Apple Store workers formed in an effort to explore unionization and to push Apple to better acknowledge the economic and safety needs of its employees. However, upon announcing their campaign intentions, the group reportedly faced swift resistance and opposition from Apple.
Apple management denounced the campaign as a “false narrative” and responded strongly by organizing mandatory meetings for the stores during which pro-management statements were made. What began as a series of secret meetings between the forming labor union soon devolved into further interactions with parent company officials. Skype representatives from Apple headquarters reportedly attended one of these meetings where they discouraged further union involvement among its employees.
While organizing efforts stalled for a few weeks following this activity, several former Apple store employees reported feeling pressured or threatened to stay away from union discussions or face potential consequences from their managers. This dampened any progress made by these workers towards creating an official syndicate at an Apple store.
Despite initial attempts at thwarting the worker’s collective voice, some members of the workplace rights movement are still supporting their cause while legal counsel studies possible labor violations committed by Apple in regards to suppressing employee efforts at organizing a trade union.
The Apple Store Union Campaign was a successful effort to bring together Apple Store employees in New York City in a fight for fairer labor practices. After months of organizing and lobbying for better wages and improved working conditions, the campaign culminated in a union election between pro-labor and anti-labor forces.
The outcome of the election provided significant insight into the future of labor rights for tech industry workers. In this article, we’ll explore the results of the Apple Store Union Campaign and what it means for tech industry workers.
The impact of the campaign
The Apple store union campaign ultimately had mixed results. After one year of effort, the Apple Store Union never achieved recognition and the campaign was suspended in 2017. Many workers involved in the effort moved on to other actions, while those who remained disappointed that they had not been able to negotiate with Apple openly and collectively. Some of the workers felt that their voices were not heard or seen within the company, which contributed to a perception that their complaints were unheard or ignored.
However, despite being unsuccessful in forming a union, many positive changes were made as a result of this campaign. For instance, some worker conditions improved such as break policies, scheduling processes and improved pay for certain roles. Additionally, the awareness raised by this campaign garnered attention from several politicians and pushed Apple to make further commitments such as launching new initiatives like tuition reimbursement plans for employees of colour and increasing their minimum wage for more experienced staff.
Overall, although recognition for the union was not achieved, it brought about several positive changes for workers that have been sustained since then through ongoing conversations between Apple’s management and workers outside of collective bargaining frameworks.
The current state of the campaign
The union campaign in Apple retail stores has been met with mixed results. Many Apple employees are still actively advocating for unionization, and a significant number of stores have already voted to unionize. However, other locations have yet to see any definitive votes from their employees.
In addition, the Apple Store Union (ASU) was formed in August 2018 and began an active international campaign to represent workers rights at Apple stores worldwide. Despite their best efforts and numerous protests, the ASU and its members have experienced various hurdles throughout their campaign due to pushback from Apple management.
At this time, the outcome of the union effort is still uncertain. Although pro-union activists remain passionate about improving working conditions for all Apple store employees, it is unlikely that any changes will come without continued conflict between the ASU and Apple’s corporate office. Even if all of the union’s current initiatives are successful, it remains unclear what kinds of changes they will be able to implement in the future as a result.