Apple vice president of people and retail Deirdre O’Brien explicitly discourages workers from joining a union in an internal video leaked to The edge† “I worry about what it would mean to put another organization at the center of our relationship,” she says. “An organization that doesn’t have a deep understanding of Apple or our company. And most importantly, I don’t believe it shares our commitment to you.”
This message comes during union actions at three of Apple’s stores: one in New York, one in Maryland and one in Georgia. The latter two have set dates for holding elections, which they have agreed with Apple. Employees at the Cumberland Mall Apple Store will vote on whether to join a union starting June 2, and employees at Apple’s Towson Town Center store in Maryland will vote on June 15.
In the video, O’Brien shares common points of discussion against unions, including that a union would slow the company’s ability to respond to employee concerns. “Apple moves incredibly fast,” she said. “It’s one thing I like about our work in retail. This means that we also have to be able to switch quickly. And I’m concerned that because the union will introduce its own legally mandated rules governing how we solve problems, it may make it harder for us to act quickly to address things you raise. I am committed and proud of our ability to act quickly to support our teams, to support you. But I don’t know if we could have acted so quickly under a collective bargaining agreement, as it could limit our ability to immediately make widespread changes to improve your experience. And I think that’s really at stake here.”
One of the most important things Apple retailers are organizing around is pay. In the United States, union workers earn about 13.2 percent more than their non-union peers in the same industry, according to the Economic Policy Institute†
The CEO has personally visited Apple stores in recent weeks, a move many employees believe is intended to appease employees trying to organize.
Apple’s actions have shown that it is not keen on organizing its employees; it has hired anti-union lawyers, scripted executives to read to workers why unions are bad, and decided to hold public rallies. Apple’s messages largely echoed what O’Brien said in the video: The company has told its employees unions don’t understand its culture. However, existing union actions are supported by coalitions of Apple workers who have expressed explicit criticism of Apple management’s relationship with employees. While these organizations work with large, established unions, the efforts are led by Apple employees.
The company has also twice been accused of unionizing in other ways by allegedly preventing workers from putting up pro-union posters and questioning workers about union activities.
Despite all this, the company’s executives have so far not explicitly expressed an anti-union stance. While Apple’s actions were clear, the words were relatively quiet, apart from individual store executives holding meetings. Now the message is clear – and straight from above.