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People walk through an Apple retail store in Buford, Georgia on March 28, 2019.

People walk through an Apple retail store in Buford, Georgia on March 28, 2019. (Photo: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Atlanta Apple Store Workers File for Company's First Union Election in US

Amid a nationwide organizing wave, 70% of workers at one of the tech giant's stores in Georgia have signaled their support for the Communications Workers of America to hold a vote on unionization.

Kenny Stancil

Workers at an Apple store in Atlanta filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday, becoming the first to do so at any of the Silicon Valley giant's 272 retail locations across the United States.

"Somebody has got to be the first to do something."

Bloomberg Law reported that 70% of workers at an Apple store in Cumberland Mall in northwest Atlanta signed cards authorizing the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which is spearheading a broader effort to organize tech employees, to hold an election—far exceeding the 30% threshold needed to qualify. If a majority of the workers vote to unionize, the nation's first collective bargaining unit at Apple would have 107 members and be called Apple Workers Union.

"Right now, I think, is the right time because we simply see momentum swinging the way of workers," Derrick Bowles, a genius bar worker at the Cumberland store and member of the organizing committee, told the news outlet.

In recent weeks, employees at some of the nation's most powerful corporations—which have enjoyed record-breaking profits while workers get hammered by the Covid-19 pandemic and price gouging—have scored major victories, boosting public support for organized labor along the way.

Workers at Starbucks, for instance, have unionized dozens of coffee shops throughout the U.S. in a matter of months. Meanwhile, Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island voted earlier this month to form the first union at the e-commerce giant on U.S. soil. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said last week that the historic win has the potential to spur "a national, sweeping movement."

News that Apple store workers in Atlanta submitted a union election petition comes just days after their counterparts at the Grand Central Terminal store in New York City announced they have started collecting signatures in a bid to be represented by Workers United, which has successfully organized hundreds of Starbucks baristas.

The move by workers at the Atlanta store "coincides with a wave of burgeoning and growing union drives at Apple stores at least half a dozen Apple store locations," Motherboard reported.

Apple retail workers, who have spent months preparing to file paperwork with the NLRB, are fighting for livable wages, cost-of-living adjustments, and stock options—all standard benefits for Apple office workers.

"A number of us have been here for many years, and we don't think you stick at a place unless you love it," Bowles said in a statement. "Apple is a profoundly positive place to work, but we know that the company can better live up to their ideals and so we're excited to be joining together with our coworkers to bring Apple to the negotiating table and make this an even better place to work."

According to Bloomberg Law:

Organizers say that pay at the store falls below the living wage for Atlanta. Starting pay is about $20 an hour, below the $31-an-hour living wage for a single parent with one child, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The union wants to raise base wages to $28 an hour, the minimum it says is needed for a single employee to afford a one-bedroom apartment without being burdened by rent. It's also asking for bigger raises to offset inflation and greater profit-sharing to match corporate employees.

As The Washington Post reported earlier this year, "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 astronomical cash flow has allowed the company to spend tens of billions a year in stock buybacks and dividends for investors, buoying its share price."

The frontline workers who sell and repair iPhones, MacBooks, and iPads, however, told the newspaper "they haven't shared in the company's gains. Apple retail employees can earn anywhere 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. But those wages have not kept up with inflation over the years, they say, which means retail employees are making less as they sell more Apple products."

Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook took home $98.7 million last year—a 569% increase from 2020.

Bowles told Bloomberg Law that he and other workers started talking about unionizing their Apple store a year ago after Amazon warehouse workers fought to create the company's first union in Bessemer, Alabama. Although the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union was defeated in the first election—but granted a second, yet-to-be-determined election after the NLRB ruled that Amazon unfairly influenced the results—it galvanized Apple workers to step up.

The Atlanta organizing committee hopes to inspire other Apple workers to pursue unionization, much as the initial triumph of Buffalo Starbucks workers in December led to mounting victories for employees of the company.

"Somebody has got to be the first to do something," said Bowles. "Being first doesn't matter to us—doing it is what matters to us. And if we have to be first, we will be first."

The Atlanta Apple workers' petition, which must be reviewed by the NLRB, proposes that an on-site election be held from May 5 to May 7.

"We welcome the workers who are organizing at Apple and call on the company's management to reject union-busting tactics so that they can vote without interference or intimidation," said Ed Barlow, president of CWA Local 3204 in Atlanta. "These workers have been indispensable during the pandemic and the high level of service and support they provide is critical to Apple's success. By having a union voice, they will be able to negotiate lasting improvements to their working conditions."

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