Employees at Apple’s store in Towson Town Center have launched a drive to unionize, becoming one of just three Apple store locations and the first in Maryland to announce organizing efforts.
The Apple workers there have formed the Coalition of Organized Retail Employees with the backing of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the machinists union said.
The Towson workers notified Apple CEO Tim Cook of their plans in a letter, listing “access to rights we do not currently have” as a key reason. Workers asked Cook in the letter to refrain from union-busting tactics.
The effort has support from most of the 110 eligible, non-management workers at the store in the Towson mall, said David DiMaria, a machinists union organizer for the Apple store campaign.
“We are on the front lines of the Apple experience,” the workers say in their letter to Cook. “As the face of Apple we have the responsibility of showing up every day to do the best work of our lives. We are unlike anyone else and are at the center of the customer experience.”
In a statement, Apple said it offers strong compensation and benefits for full-time and part-time employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, annual stock grants and other benefits. The company confirmed that it pays a minimum rate of $20 per hour.
“We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple,” the statement said.
Workers said they are moving to unionize as other large companies in the service and tech sectors organize and as the store nears its 20th year. They asked Cook to “pledge not to use your resources to engage in an anti-union campaign to dissuade us.”
The Apple employees are joining those at other companies that have sought union representation after taking stock of workplace demands and conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month, Starbucks baristas at a location in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood voted to unionize, becoming the first Maryland workers to organize amid a fast-growing national movement among the giant coffee chain’s workers. Workers at the North Charles Street coffee shop voted unanimously to join Workers United, an affiliate of SEIU.
And workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, became the first in the company’s history to unionize with an April 1 vote to join the worker-led Amazon Labor Union. However, efforts to organize a second Amazon facility, a package sorting center also in Staten Island, fell short earlier this week.
Efforts to unionize have been opposed by both Amazon and Starbucks.
Two other Apple stores, one in Atlanta and one in New York City’s Grand Central Station, have launched similar unionization efforts.
Apple workers in Atlanta requested an election through the National Labor Relations Board, and workers at the Towson store became the second to seek an election earlier this month. The Towson employees are scheduled to vote in person between June 15 and June 18.
At his full-time job at the Towson Apple store, Julian Milligan not only helps customers make purchases but also works on iPhone and Mac device repairs and helps customers troubleshoot their Apple products.
He said he is in favor of unionizing the store “just to make sure everyone is compensated correctly, making sure everyone is cared for correctly.”
He began to see the need for another layer of worker protection during the pandemic, he said. The store closed and reopened several times amid waves of COVID-19 in 2020, and some store workers got sick. Because he has family members with immune problem, he worried at the time about the store opening prematurely.
Milligan, a 24-year-old Towson resident, said he would like to see a union focus on compensation, as well.
“With the rise of inflation, it’s kind of hard paying student loans and bills and groceries every week,” he said. “Apple is a pretty big company. One would think we would get paid more.”
The tech giant has not voluntarily recognized the store’s proposed union, said DiMaria, of the machinists union, which represents about 600,000 active and retired members in the aerospace, defense, airlines, railroad, transit, health care, automotive and other industries.
“In general, what this process is about is getting the right to negotiate over wages, hours and working conditions,” and having that system in place as the workplace evolves, DiMaria said.
He said managers have had “one-on-one conversations with employees,” at the Towson Apple, telling them they could have less flexibility under union contract, which he disputes.
“The workers themselves actually are the ones who come up with the proposals they want to make at bargaining,” he said. “There’s no set union rules that come by virtue of forming a union. Every workplace is different.”
DiMaria said he believes unionizing efforts might be gaining traction because of a spotlight on workers’ issues during the pandemic and because of a pro-labor Biden administration
Although the Apple workers are part of the retail sector, their jobs have a technical and skilled aspect, such as teaching people how to interact with technology, DiMaria said.
The Evening Sun
“Workers who haven’t typically organized in the past are being compelled to gain some of these rights available to them,” he said.
Workers at Apple in Towson are asking the company to follow a neutrality requirement that it has in place for suppliers that engage in collective bargaining.
In their letter, they said they’re taking action not to “create conflict with management” but “out of care for the company itself.”
Onye Igwulu, a 24-year-old Apple employee, said he became convinced after talking with colleagues and doing research that a union can improve transparency, fairness, safety and pay.
“I just would like to have a voice in these things,” said Igwulu, who works part-time in sales helping customers, and he said he believes in the company.
“My family was proud when I got this job,” said Igwulu, a Morgan State University sophomore majoring in philosophy and pre-law. “It’s hard to believe that such a great company that makes such a great amount of money, that I’d still find myself sometimes struggling to get by.”
He said being part of one of the initial groups of Apple store workers to attempt to organize, “was just an amazing feeling. ... It’s something I believe is going to bring positive change and that the workers will have a real say in workplace matters. A union isn’t some third-party organization. It is the workers.”