An Apple Store Worker Is the New Face of US Labor Law Reform

Business groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce say the provisions of the PRO Act will undermine workers’ rights and destabilize the economy. Apple did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Last month, the company wrote in a regulatory filing that it plans to assess its compliance with American workers’ freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.

PRO’s third time looks less favorable in Congress as Democrats, who are traditionally more union-friendly, no longer control the House and have only a narrow majority in the Senate. Civic is not deterred. “I don’t want others to succumb to the intimidation and fear-mongering that Apple has tried to put us through,” she says.

The percentage of American workers represented by the union has fallen for decades, to 10 percent last year. But unions have recently made inroads in technology, drawing retail clerks at Apple, warehouse workers at Amazon, video game testers at Microsoft, and programmers into corporate offices at places like Google. Pockets of workers frustrated with tech companies’ handling of sensitive issues that include sexual harassment and military contracts have spurred regulation in recent years.

Tech companies have turned to the typical gamebooks of traditional union industries to fight back. A regional office of the National Labor Relations Board said in December that it was pursuing a case over allegations that Apple unfairly interfered with unionization at an Atlanta store through captive audience meetings, employee questioning, and other coercive tactics. A hearing is scheduled for April. The staff eventually withdrew their plans to vote in Atlanta last year.

The NLRB has said in the past that employer-led discussions about union flaws do not violate workers’ rights to choose what to hear. But the board recently changed its view after a flurry of designations by the Biden administration, including general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo, the agency’s top bureaucrat, who wrote a memo last April calling the captive sessions illegal.

The PRO Act is an effort to lock more union-friendly policies into law to prevent a future administration or the NLRB from reversing provisions of the Biden era. Besides addressing captive public meetings, the legislation would set a new standard for selecting independent contractors, which could affect many tech companies; require all union members to pay dues; and allowing new forms of strike. It would also hold executives accountable for violations of workers’ rights and allow workers to sue their employers if the NLRB fails to prosecute their case. Other provisions broadly aim to limit employers’ power to influence the outcome of regulation.

Civick says that before considering unionization, she and her colleagues repeatedly raised their concerns to managers but didn’t get much change. Their requests included larger pay increases for long-term employees and pay increases for workers whose skills in speaking multiple languages ​​proved valuable with clients.

Urgently, they asked Apple to rid the back room of their store — where repairs are made, lunch breaks are made, and inventory is stocked — from the stench. Civick says the area has flooded with sewage many times over the years, and she’s personally helped clean up the mess several times. Simon Property Group, which operates the center, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Oklahoma City store was the second Apple location to unionize, after a store in Towson, Maryland, represented by the International Federation of Machinists and the Aerospace Workers union. Several other stores — including those in Des Moines, Iowa and New York City — have discussed unionizing, according to the Communication Workers of America group that helps workers in those areas. Momentum is “just beginning, honestly,” Civic says. (Disclosure: The WIRED consortium, of which I’m a member, is a unit of NewsGuild of New York, and its parent organization is the CWA.)

PRO Law requires mediation and arbitration to help settle contract disputes, but it may not solve every problem for Civick and other workers. The Oklahoma City League is still waiting for Apple to schedule negotiation sessions to cancel its first contract. Sometimes companies hope that procrastination will weaken support for a newly formed union or lead to its dissolution altogether. Civick says this will not happen in its store. “We’re still completely overwhelmed and understaffed, and there hasn’t been much movement on Apple’s part to improve any of these circumstances.”


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