A person familiar with the matter told CNN Business that workers at the Grand Central Apple store have begun collecting signatures to file a petition to unionize, the first step of a union organizing effort. If they file cards from at least 30% of the workers at the store, the National Labor Relations Board can hold an election.
On the group’s website, it says a union is needed because wages have not kept pace with the cost of living in New York City. It said it also wants better job protections for workers.
“Apple has grown to be the most valuable company in the world,” the employees’ site says.”Why should its retail workers live precariously? We cannot live at the whims of Apple’s generosity. We can’t bet our futures on luck. If Apple’s goal is ‘To leave the world better than we found it,’ then they need to hold themselves to a higher standard.”
“We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple,” said the company’s statement. “We are pleased to offer very strong 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 benefits.”
The company has more than 270 US stores, and tens of thousands of US retail employees. The starting salary for retail workers is $20 an hour, or about $40,000 a year for a full-time employee. The average hourly wage for retailer workers at electronics and appliance stores nationwide stands at about $25.50 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is all workers in the sector, not the starting wage.
Growing union efforts
The employees leading the organizing effort at the Grand Central store, and the Workers United union, argue that a union is needed no matter the current starting wage.
“Hourly wage workers across the country have come to the realization that without organizing for a collective voice, employers will continue to ignore their concerns in the workplace,” said a statement from Workers United. “Workers across the country have decided a collective voice is what they need, and organizing movements are stronger than they have been in a long time.”
While nearly 40% of government workers belong to unions, only 6.1% of private sector employees are union members, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the representation of retail workers is even lower — only 4.4%, with most of those in grocery stores. Union membership has been in a decline for decades, with private sector union membership falling from steadily from the 16.8% it held in 1983. Organizing nonunion companies such as Starbucks, Amazon and Apple are crucial to union efforts to regain influence they have lost over the decades.
In the past six months, the number of elections filed with the NLRB is up 57% from the same period a year ago. It’s the most active level of organizing in at least 10 years.
Unhappy Apple workers
The effort is just the latest example of worker agitation inside Apple’s corporate and retail workforce that seeped outside the company and into the public sphere.
The company, which has long prided itself on secrecy, has seen its employees push back and speak out over issues ranging from alleged pay disparities, remote work policies and mistreatment of its frontline retail workers.
“Apple easily has the financial resources to be the exemplar of a modern, progressive workplace, but instead has established itself as the paradigm of capitalist greed,” wrote Matt Herbst, telling CNN Business in February that he’d already had roughly 100 people reach out to him that work at various stores telling him they’d had similar experiences.