Apple corporate workers help growing union

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Earlier this year, former Apple software engineer Cher Scarlett received a distraught message from an Apple retail employee at New York’s Grand Central Station. The employee worked with the union to organize her store, but the partnership fell apart. Downstream, she sent Scarlett a message to speak up. Employee knew Scarlett as founder #AppleToo, a campaign that emerged last summer to shed light on alleged discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Scarlett was a vocal advocate for workers’ rights and knew who to call.

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Scarlett recently met a Workers United organizer at a rally in support of the Starbucks employee unions, where she used to work. “I’m like, wait a minute. You are in New York. Workers United started in New York. I have a connection.” She introduced herself and the Grand Central campaign was revived. In April, they unveiled their organizing initiative, naming themselves Association of Fruit Shop Workers.

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The campaign is one of several unionization events being held at Apple Stores across the country, both state-owned and underground. They are increasingly finding support among current and former employees of Apple’s corporate offices, thanks in part to a solidarity alliance called Apple Together that Scarlett helped create and that sprang from the #AppleToo campaign. The group’s Discord server has grown to over 250 employees and provides a space to share stories, share resources, learn how to organize, and coordinate campaigns. About a third of the group is corporate staff, the rest are retail store and AppleCare employees. A few trusted union representatives hang out on Discord, ready to talk to anyone interested in organizing their workplace.

The forum also helps employees know when they are sharing their personal struggles. “Many people who joined our Discord server say that watching these stories really gave them the opportunity to start speaking for themselves,” says Janneke Parrish, former manager of the Apple Maps program, which helped organize Apple Together. (Parrish was fired last year after helping organize #AppleToo. Apple said her firing was not retaliatory, while Parrish disagrees.)

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Apple’s corporate culture is known for being secretive, isolating employees from each other in the interests of protecting upcoming launches. This secrecy about products sometimes extends to working conditions, says one of the organizers of Apple Together, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. But between the introduction Weak in 2019 and the creation of Apple Together, “this is probably the least fragmented situation in recent years,” she says.

The arrival of Apple Together coincided with a watershed moment for the company’s workforce. experiencing Apple on issues ranging from equal payouts to my return to office policy. Workers in Cumberland Mall in Atlanta petitioned for union elections at the end of April with Communications Workers of America, and this month, workers in Towson, Maryland, applied for election to the International Aerospace and Machinists Association. Central station the store collects signatures and also plans to submit.

According to Kevin Gallagher, who worked there for several years, Towson workers hope to finally have a say in their working conditions. “I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what type of work and skills are required to do the kind of work that we do,” he says. “People think, ‘Oh, this is a retail store. They must be teenagers who work part-time while they are in college. We have people in their 50s and 60s doing highly skilled jobs.”

Gallagher remembers how Apple offered free battery replacements to customers in 2016, flooding retail outlets with resentful customers without significant staffing changes. (According to him, it did not help that exposed iPhone batteries could catch fire during the repair process, which is known in branch as a “heat event”.) It seemed to him that no one in the corporation thought about how the program would affect retail employees. The pattern will resurface in the months and years to come, he said, such as when the company canceled its mandate to wear masks and several of his colleagues subsequently contracted Covid-19. Apple declined to comment on this story.

Some Apple Together corporate employees and alumni have begun visiting their local retail stores to speak with workers and offer support. After leaving the company, Parrish visited every retail store in her home state of Texas. She knows of at least five other corporate employees who have done similar work. She recalls one conversation in which employees recognized her through organizational work. “They were thrilled to have someone come into their space and listen to their experience. It was an incredibly fruitful conversation that I understand led to the organization of this store.” (Because Scarlett and Parrish no longer work for Apple, they are part of the Apple Together program as consultants.)

Some stores have unionized without the help of Apple Together. Gallagher, for example, had heard of the collective but was skeptical about it because he wanted the campaign to be as quiet as possible. But organizers say other unionization efforts – some of which have yet to go public – have arisen directly from connections made within the group.

The organizers relied on the recommendations of the experienced groups. Scarlett, for her part, consulted Google strike organizers and Timnit Gebru, a former ethical AI researcher and diversity advocate fired from Google in 2020. She says they emphasized solidarity between the most and least privileged workers. Parrish is a member of the Sunrise Movement, a climate justice organization. “I tried to incorporate what I learned from the Sunrise movement into how I helped organize Apple Together, keeping in mind all these ideals of solidarity, the importance of storytelling in how you create a movement and recruit people, and how that every voice has the right to be heard.”

For now, Apple Together operates mostly anonymously, run by volunteer committees, but could become something more like Alphabet Workers Union, a solidarity alliance with civil servants and due-paying members that was founded last year and is associated with America’s communications workers. Working for a couple Google Fiber retail stores in Kansas City, Missouri, recently became the first store to vote for an AWU-affiliated certified union. “Retail stores are very union-friendly,” says the Apple Together organizer. Whereas, from the corporate and AppleCare side, “it may not be immediately clear how these negotiation units break down.”

The organizer believes the current base is made up of more risk-tolerant employees, given Apple’s history of laying off workers like Parrish who have spoken out about working conditions. “When there is a stronger foundation, it becomes easier to pull [other] loved ones.” As more retailers apply to vote in the coming months or years, she hopes to see their hard work pay off.


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