The historic union election ended Saturday night with 65 workers voting for union and 33 against, a nearly two-to-one margin in favor of the union, according to a preliminary tally by the National Labor Relations Board.
The US labor market has tipped much more strongly in favor of workers over the past two years. There are now about twice as many job vacancies as there are unemployed people looking for work, forcing employers to scramble to fill vacancies. The number of employees laid off or made redundant has recently reached an all-time high. And the number of employees leaving their jobs, usually because they found better opportunities, remains near recent highs. This made employees dissatisfied with their jobs more willing to demand better working conditions, including through unionization.
Saturday’s vote marks a major victory for retail workers at Apple, which has seen a wave of employee activism within its ranks in recent months, a movement known as #AppleToo.
Questions beyond wages
The main issue behind the organizing vote was that workers wanted a say in how the store is run, said Christie Pridgen, the store’s technical expert and one of the organizers. Pridgen, 34, said she had worked at the store for more than 8 years.
“Compensation is important, given the general cost of living and inflation, but the most important thing is to have a say,” she told CNN Business on Saturday night after the vote. “It was the most important thing for me.”
Pridgen said workers having a say in hours and schedules and being involved in establishing safety protocols during the pandemic were the big issues.
“We wanted to have a say in the policies that affect our lives,” she said, adding that she was not surprised by the outcome of the vote, but was relieved.
“I knew I wasn’t the only one frustrated,” she said. As to whether she considered leaving Apple for another job, she said she felt like her co-workers were like a family.
“I’m not ready to leave here because of the connection I have with my teammates,” she said.
A Apple (AAPL) spokesman declined to comment on the vote.
“We are fortunate to have incredible members of the retail team and deeply appreciate all they bring to Apple,” the company said in a statement ahead of the vote. “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, grants annual shares and many other benefits.”
The union that won the vote is called Apple Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, or AppleCORE for short. He was backed by the larger International Association of Machinists, known for the strength of its production workers at Boeing as well as many employees in the American airline industry.
“I applaud the courage shown by CORE members at the Apple store in Towson to achieve this historic victory,” said IAM International President Robert Martinez. “They made a huge sacrifice for thousands of Apple employees across the country who had their eyes on this election.”
The Apple Store vote follows a labor victory in April at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York, the first Amazon (AMZN) possibility of voting in favor of a union. There has also been a string of union victories at Starbucks stores nationwide since late last year.
Winning union votes remains difficult
Still, it’s an uphill battle for unions to win unionizing votes. Even with all the upvotes to Starbucks (SBUX) stores, the union won the right to represent only about 5,000 of the 235,000 employees at Starbucks’ 9,000 stores in the United States. Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center had about 8,300 workers while the company has more than one million total U.S. employees.
The victory at the Apple store in Maryland came after union supporters at an Apple store in Atlanta withdrew their demand to hold a vote. The union victory on the Staten Island Amazon site is disputed by the company. And that followed a failed attempt by another union to represent an Amazon fulfillment center in Alabama. There was subsequently a union loss at a nearby Amazon plant, also on Staten Island.
Management often pressures employees to vote against a union, arguing that it will be more difficult to address concerns about working conditions if a union is in place, or that employees will be paid less and will have to pay union dues if they vote to join a union. For example, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced a pay raise for most of the company’s U.S. employees that won’t apply to store workers who voted for a union, saying the potential raise wages would now be subject to negotiation.
Workers may also fear that a company will shut down a site that votes for one union while keeping others open. Workers at a Starbucks store in Ithaca, New York, say their location is closed due to a successful organizing effort. The company denies that the union vote was the reason for the closure plans, but the union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint.
The advantages available to management to defeat union organizing efforts have caused the percentage of American workers belonging to a union to drop to 10.3% in 2021, from 20.1% in 1983. Nearly half of union members work for a certain level of government. Overall, only 6.1% of employees in the private sector are unionized, including 4.4% of retail employees, mainly in grocery stores.