Workers at Apple’s flagship Grand Central Terminal retail location in Manhattan have begun to formally collect signatures to form a union, according to a newly updated website launched by the organizers, setting the stage for a showdown between the iPhone maker and the employees who sell them.
If the organizers of Fruit Stand Workers United are successful in gathering enough votes to form a union, the Grand Central location would become the first of Apple’s retail stores to do so. That would add the Cupertino, Calif., company to a growing list of corporate behemoths, including Amazon, Starbucks and Activision-Blizzard, facing a wave of unionization efforts in a labor landscape that has fundamentally shifted in the wake of the global pandemic. At least three other Apple retail locations are in the process of forming a union, according to employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity to keep their jobs.
“Grand Central is an extraordinary store with unique working conditions that make a union necessary to ensure our team has the best possible standards of living in what have proven to be extraordinary times with the ongoing covid-19 pandemic and once-in-a-generation consumer price inflation,” the website says.
Apple declined to say whether they would support or fight the union effort, but said in a statement that “we are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple. We are pleased to offer very 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 many other benefits.”
Apple has more than 500 retail locations around the world and more than 270 in the United States, according to its website. It employs more than 65,000 retail workers. Sales through Apple’s retail stores and website made up 36 percent of the company’s $366 billion in total revenue in the fiscal year that ended in October, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
Apple has seen astonishing revenue growth in recent years, bringing in $378 billion in the last calendar year, compared with $240 billion in 2017. Its strong cash position has allowed the company to spend tens of billions a year in stock buybacks and dividends for investors, buoying its share price.
Apple retail employees interviewed by The Post have said that despite the company’s success, their pay has not kept up with inflation, and some complain of difficult working conditions, including the inability to hold managers accountable for alleged unfair or abusive practices. Apple retail employees can earn from $17 to more than $30 per hour, depending on their market and position, and receive between $1,000 and around $2,000 in stock, they said. Employees say Apple’s hourly rates are usually in line with other retail jobs in the regions where they’re employed. But Apple, valued at $2.7 trillion, is no ordinary company. An apple spokeswoman said the minimum hourly rate at Apple retail stores is $20.
Apple retail employees say they have been instrumental to the company’s success, helping to drive sales using their knowledge and passion for the products . Even when they were kept home during the pandemic, retail workers continued to contribute, nimbly fulfilling new duties such as offering technical support to customers from home, and they say they haven’t been compensated for the extra time and stress of quickly adapting. Despite raises early in the year at the company’s retail locations, and new benefits including more vacation time and family leave, some Apple employees still feel shortchanged.
Apple has said it is “deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace. We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised and, out of respect for the privacy of any individuals involved, we do not discuss specific employee matters.”
The news comes on the heels of an upset victory by Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island — just across the bay from Apple’s Grand Central Terminal location — where a majority voted to unionize despite fierce efforts by the e-commerce giant to convince them otherwise. And Starbucks employees at 16 locations, including one in downtown Manhattan, have successfully unionized. More than 100 stores have announced efforts to follow. Employees at REI’s SoHo location in Manhattan voted 88-14 in March to unionize, the first of REI’s 170 stores to do so. Quality assurance workers for Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software are in the hard-fought process of forming a union, part of a growing trend in video games.
On Dec. 24, Apple retail employees staged a walkout and launched a website, Apple Together, to help retail employees.
The employees at Apple’s stores have mostly been working in secret, hoping to informally gauge interest before making a public push to gather official signatures. Workers believe the company will find a reason to fire them if management learns of their effort to unionize.
Fruit Stand Workers United’s website says employees have been communicating on an encrypted messaging service, albeit anonymously to protect them from possible retribution.
The union organizers in Apple retail locations have allies in the corporate offices, according to employees. Apple’s high tech workers have also been pushing for better working conditions.
Last year, software engineers and other “corporate” workers formed #Appletoo, a movement aimed at improving working conditions at the company, particularly for traditionally underrepresented groups, including workers with disabilities.
Apple fired Janneke Parrish, who helped organize #AppleToo. Parrish said she was being investigated for leaking information from an all-hands company meeting, a charge she denies.
And Cher Scarlett, a software engineer who encouraged employees to share their salaries in a survey to expose possible wage disparities hurting underrepresented groups, alleged that she was pushed out in retaliation for her efforts.