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Former Apple employees contribute to store organizing efforts

At least two high-profile former Apple workers are helping retail store workers’ union efforts, with additional guidance from Google strike organizers.

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


We first learned that retail workers were planning to unionize in February.

Groups at two stores are reportedly preparing paperwork to file with the National Labor Relations Board, with about six other locations in early planning stages.

The Post says the main source of unrest is over wages. Apple pays retail employees between $20 and $30 an hour, depending on role and seniority. However, workers say those rates have not kept up with inflation.

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

Things came to fruition last month, with the process officially kicking off at Apple’s flagship store, Grand Central Terminal, in New York City, with a number of goals for a better staff deal.

In addition to seeking better working conditions, more vacations and better retirement options, the group is seeking a minimum wage of $30/hour.

This was followed by similar moves to Atlanta and Maryland.

Former Apple employees contribute to organizing efforts

Wired reports that Scarlett and Janneke Parrish are helping store staff get organized. Scarlett has reached an agreement with Apple to leave the company after conducting an employee pay survey and speaking out against the company’s return-to-work 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 in the company.

Earlier this year, former Apple software engineer Cher Scarlett received a distraught DM from an Apple Retail employee at Grand Central Station in New York City. The employee was working with a union to organize her store, but the partnership was dissolved. Adrift, she texted Scarlett to let off steam. The employee knew Scarlett as the founder of #AppleToo, a campaign launched last summer to shed light on allegations of workplace discrimination and harassment. Scarlett was a strong advocate for workers’ rights and she knew exactly who to call.

Scarlett had recently met a Workers United organizer at a rally for unionized employees at Starbucks, where she worked. “I was like, wait a minute. You are 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 campaign, calling themselves Fruit Stand Workers United […]

After leaving the company, Parrish visited every retail store in his home state of Texas. She knows at least five other company employees who have done similar outreach. She recalls a conversation in which employees recognized her for her organizing work. “They were thrilled that someone had come into their space and listened to their experiences. It was an incredibly fruitful conversation that, to my knowledge, leads to the organization within this store.” (Since Scarlett and Parrish don’t no longer work at Apple, they participate in Apple Together in advisory roles) […]

The organizers were guided by experienced groups. Scarlett, for her part, consulted with 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 unionized store ‘to listen’

Edge journalist Zoe Schiffer tweeted that Apple’s retail manager visits an Apple Store in Maryland, where employees are unionizing – and that store managers have released a summary of company benefits.

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

Store workers who responded to the tweets didn’t seem overly impressed, noting that Apple recently granted additional sick leave – but penalizes staff for using it.

When I got my COVID shot and had side effects the next day I called because they said they would totally excuse it. Yeah, that didn’t happen. “Your call still has a negative impact on the business, so this counts against you…” like ok. THX. Goodbye.

The 9to5Mac take

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

So far, only a handful of stores have actively started the unionization process – but there’s no doubt this will trickle down to the Apple Store network. If Apple leaves things too long, the default labor-management 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 – adopting something akin to the approach of the German works councils.

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

So far, however, Apple’s position seems to be that if it talks about existing benefits and mutters vague threats, it will all go away.

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