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Apple Engaged in Illegal Union Busting at One of Its Stores, Labor Board Says

The National Labor Relations Board determined that, through forced anti-union meetings and interrogations, Apple violated worker rights laws.

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Apple store workers nationwide have been organizing this year like never before. Two stores have successfully unionized, and multiple other locations have begun the process.
Apple store workers nationwide have been organizing this year like never before. Two stores have successfully unionized, and multiple other locations have begun the process.
Photo: Gimas (Shutterstock)

Apple used illegal union busting tactics against workers in one of its Atlanta, Georgia stores, according to the National Labor Relations Board. Workers at the Cumberland Mall store were the first in the country to officially file for a union election. However, just a month after filing, the Communications Workers of America withdrew its request—claiming that Apple was engaging in intimidation and other anti-union actions against the workers.

The CWA accused Apple of forcing the Georgia store employees to attend daily, mandatory meetings discouraging union membership and of interrogating employees. Under those conditions, the union said it didn’t think a fair election was possible. And the NLRB’s local director has officially agreed, in a determination released Monday.

“The Region 10-Atlanta Regional Director found merit to allegations in 10-CA-295915, on the captive audience allegation, coercive statements, and interrogation,” wrote NLRB’s press secretary Kayla Blado to Gizmodo in an email. “If the parties do not settle, the Regional Director will issue a complaint, which will result in a hearing with an NLRB Administrative Law Judge,” Blado added.

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After withdrawing an initial union election request, store employees and the CWA have to wait at least six months before they can petition again, under NLRB rules. So, Apple’s tactics have delayed the Georgia stores unionization efforts by at least that much time.

Back in April, the NLRB issued a memo declaring that so-called “captive audience” meetings, in which employees are forced to listen to their employer speak about unionization and labor rights, violate the National Labor Relations Act. The decision empowered Apple retail workers to issue a complaint with the NLRB over their “daily download” meetings in which Apple management disseminated “anti-union propaganda,” the CWA said in a press statement responding to Monday’s NLRB finding, emailed to Gizmodo.

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“Apple executives think the rules don’t apply to them. Holding an illegal forced captive audience meeting is not only union-busting, but an example of psychological warfare,” said CWA’s organizing director Tom Smith in the statement.

Apple, one the world’s most highly valued companies, has been facing a nationwide wave of worker organization efforts in both its retail stores and at its headquarters. Store employees in Towson, Maryland were officially the first to successfully unionize in June. In October, workers in an Oklahoma City retail location became the second. Other stores have filed for elections or otherwise begun the process of unionization, including the company’s World Trade Center location in New York City.

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There, workers have also accused Apple of union-busting. The NLRB also agreed in that case, filing a complaint against the company accusing Apple of discriminatory and intimidating actions at the end of September. A hearing is scheduled over the New York store complaint on January 9. If Apple and CWA don’t settle over the Atlanta store findings, a complaint and hearing will be the next step there as well. Following a hearing, the NLRB can order changes be made, though the company would likely appeal any mandates.

Gizmodo reached out to Apple for comment on the NLRB findings, but the company did not immediately respond. Yet in a video sent to 58,000 retail employees earlier this year, the company made its stance on unions pretty clear. “Apple moves incredibly fast,” said company exec Deirdre O’Brien in the recording, leaked to The Verge. A union “could limit our ability to make widespread changes to improve your experience,” O’Brien ominously told employees—a common anti-union talking point. The company also reportedly hired anti-union law firm, Littler Mendelson, which has also been working with Starbucks to fight worker organizing.