Former Apple employees helping store unionization efforts

By | May 16, 2022


At least two high-profile former Apple employees are assisting the unionization efforts of retail store employees, with additional advice from Google walkout organizers.

Former Apple software engineer Cher Scarlett, who organized a pay survey when she worked for the company, played a key role in the formation of Fruit Stand Workers United at the Grand Central Apple Store …

Background

We first learned of retail staff plans to unionize back in February.

Groups at two stores are reportedly preparing paperwork to file with the National Labor Relations Board, with about six more locations at earlier stages of planning.

The Post says the main source of unrest is due to wages. Apple pays retail employees in the range of $20-$30 per hour, depending on role and seniority. However, the workers say these rates have not kept up with inflation. 

Inspired by recent successful union votes at more than 90 Starbucks stores, the report says that efforts to unionize have recently accelerated.

Things got real last month, with a formal start to the process at Apple’s flagship Grand Central Terminal store in New York, with a number of goals for a better deal for staff.

Along with seeking improved working conditions, more vacation time, and better retirement options, the group is looking to secure a minimum wage of $30/hour.

This was followed by similar moves in Atlanta and Maryland.

Former Apple employees helping unionization efforts

Wired reports that both Scarlett and Janneke Parrish are helping store staff to organize. Scarlett reached a settlement with Apple to leave the company after running an employee pay survey and speaking up against the company’s return to office policy. Parrish was fired from Apple after working with Scarlett on the #AppleToo campaign, which drew attention to an apparent pay gap between men and women at the company.

Earlier this year, former Apple software engineer Cher Scarlett received a distraught DM from an Apple retail employee at New York’s Grand Central Station. The employee had been working with a union to organize her store, but the partnership dissolved. Adrift, she messaged Scarlett to vent. The employee knew Scarlett as a founder of #AppleToo, a campaign that emerged last summer to shed light on alleged workplace discrimination and harassment. Scarlett was an outspoken worker’s rights advocate, and she knew just who to call.

Scarlett had recently met an organizer with Workers United at a rally for the unionizing employees at Starbucks, where she used to work. “I was like, wait a minute. You’re in New York. Workers United started in New York. I have a connection.” She made an introduction, and the Grand Central campaign was revived. In April, they went public with their organizing drive, dubbing themselves Fruit Stand Workers United […]

After leaving the company, Parrish toured every retail store in her home state of Texas. She knows of at least five other corporate employees who have done similar outreach. She recalls one conversation in which employees recognized her from her organizing work. “They were thrilled that somebody had come to their space and listened to their experiences. It was an incredibly fruitful conversation that, in my understanding, is leading to organizing within that store.” (Since Scarlett and Parrish no longer work at Apple, they participate in Apple Together in advisory roles) […]

The organizers have drawn guidance from experienced groups. Scarlett, for her part, has consulted with the Google walkout organizers and Timnit Gebru, a former ethical AI researcher and diversity advocate who was fired from Google in 2020.

Deirdre O’Brien visits unionizing store ‘to listen’

Verge reporter Zoë Schiffer tweeted that Apple’s retail head visiting a Maryland Apple Store, where employees are unionizing – and that store managers have been posting a summary of the company’s staff benefits.

Apple VP of retail Deirdre O’Brien made a surprise appearance today at the store in Maryland that recently filed for a union election. She told employees she was there to “listen.”

Store employees who responded to the tweets didn’t seem overly impressed, noting that Apple has recently granted additional sick time – but penalizes staff who use it.

When I got my COVID shot and had some side affects a day after, I called in because they said they would totally excuse it. Yeah, that didn’t happen. “You calling in still negatively impacts the business, so this is counted against you…” like ok. Thx. Bye.

9to5Mac’s Take

We’ve noted that while things are at a very early stage right now, the process is clearly going to snowball.

So far, just a handful of stores have actively begun the unionization process – but there seems little doubt that this will cascade across the Apple Store network. If Apple leaves things too long, the default management-union model of confrontation and disruption is pretty much guaranteed to apply.

We’ve also suggested that Apple treat this as an opportunity, rather than a threat – by adopting something akin to the German works councils approach.

The result – as demonstrated by the German model – is that everybody wins. Apple gets a happier workforce, which inevitably shows in their interactions with customers. Staff get better working conditions than they would by unionizing.

So far, however, Apple’s position appears to be that if it talks up existing benefits, and mutters vague threats, the whole thing will go away.

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