Apple worker organizations
Like many large technology companies, Apple Inc. has limited recognition of worker organizations. Apple does not recognize any trade unions in the United States, while it does recognize some unions and works councils in Europe, and a union in Japan. The majority of industrial and labor disputes involving Apple occur indirectly through its suppliers and contractors, notably Foxconn plants in China.
Apple is one of the most valuable corporations in the world, hitting a trillion dollar capital valuation in 2018, and becoming the first American company to reach a two trillion dollar valuation in 2020. Since the 1980s, Apple, like other Silicon Valley companies, shifted assembly operations and other manufacturing services from the United States to countries with lower labor and overhead costs and flexible scaling, particularly China. Apple directly employs 147,000 workers including 25,000 corporate employees across Apple Park and wider Silicon Valley. The vast majority of employees work at the 500 Apple stores globally, while relying on a larger outsourced workforce for manufacturing. One Foxconn factory nicknamed "iPhone city" located in Zhengzhou, alone employs 350,000 Chinese workers to exclusively work on the iPhone.
As of 2021, Apple uses hardware components from 43 different countries. The majority of assembling is done by Taiwanese original design manufacturer firms Foxconn, Pegatron, Wistron and Compal Electronics in factories primarily located inside China, but also Brazil, and India.
In contrast to China, at the start of the 2010s workers in Brazil had higher wages, stronger labour protection and nearly double the minimum wage. In 2012, by the time Foxconn opened a second Brazilian factory located in Jundiaí that focused exclusively on Apple products, the local IndustriALL affiliate Brazilian Metalworkers Union (Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores Metalúrgicos; CNTM) already had experience organizing Foxconn workers at the first non-Apple plant. After a 5-day strike in 2014 involving 3,700 workers, Foxconn made a collective agreement with the Metalworkers Union to match their salaries with the higher paid non-Apple contracted Foxconn workers. A prior strike happened in February 2013 for similar demands.
|Founded at||Foxconn City|
In the summer of 2006, the British, Chinese and US press reported poor working conditions in an iPod factory operated by Foxconn.[note 1] Apple promised to investigate, while Foxconn responded by suing two of the mainland journalists involved. Foxconn later dropped the lawsuit. In response to media pressure and local interventions by Shenzhen municipal state officials, Foxconn promised to form a union. However, nothing materialized as of November 2006. On the last day of that year, the Shenzhen branch of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions took the unusual step of establishing Foxconn's first union, initially with 118 members out of the more than 240,000 workers at the Longhua Science and Technology Park facility. In March 2007, Foxconn CEO Terry Gou's special personal assistant, Cheng Peng,[note 2] was elected as its first chairwoman. Despite being the largest 'unionized' company in the world, with over 90% of Foxconn's 1.4 million workforce registered; the Foxconn Federation of Labour Unions (Chinese: 富士康科技集团工会联合会), more commonly known as Foxconn Trade Union (Chinese: 富士康工会) is by and large a company union dominated by management rather than workers.
Foxconn again made global headlines in 2010, when over a dozen workers committed suicide due to strenuous working conditions. Apple responded by bringing in the Fair Labor Association, a US based NGO as external auditor from 2012 to 2016. One of the Association's findings was that the Foxconn Trade Union failed to adequately represent workers. The Economic Policy Institute criticized the FLA report for giving Apple and Foxconn 'undue' credit, despite ongoing issues including forced overtime and the continued use of underage labour. Foxconn promised in 2013 with the help of Fair Labor Association to prepare genuine representative elections through an anonymous voting process to elect up to 18,000 new union committees.
In a 2017 Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) report, Jenny Chan criticized the limited worker participation inside the Foxconn Trade Union and the lack of awareness or involvement of workers in the first democratic union elections held in early 2015.
Ahead of the iPhone 5 debut in 2012, employees in French Apple retail stores voted to go on strike after collective bargaining negotiations stalled. The main union involved Solidaires (SUD) represents 25% of the 1,000 French employees.
In 2011, Apple employed 50,000 workers worldwide, 30,000 of them in flagship Apple stores. In February 2012, the first works council was set up in the Munich Apple retail store. In an interview with Manager Magazin, a Ver.di union representative cited excessive overtime, high noise level and insufficient health measures as motivating factors for workers to form a works council, as well as a lack of collective agreements. In December, retail workers at the Frankfurt Apple store elected a works council, making a "General Works Council" feasible.
Ahead of the iPhone 4S launch, workers in the Rome Apple retail store went on strike, featuring the slogan "Strike Different", a wordplay on Apple's "Think Different". Strike demands included higher monthly bonus schemes of US$200, limiting employee surveillance and increasing staffing.
On December 18, 2014, retail workers of Apple Japan announced a union affiliated with Tozen using the slogan "Work Different", a wordplay on Apple's "Think Different". This union is still active today.
Apple employees launched a website called AppleToo on August 23, 2021, with a tag line "It's time to Think Different" a play on Apple's slogan "Think Different". #AppleToo is a reference to the #MeToo movement and the sharing of personal stories — in the case of Apple, about discrimination by human resources and management. The website started publishing some of the personal stories of past and current Apple workers including contractors. The project was led by program manager Janneke Parrish and security engineer Cher Scarlett, as well as other anonymous employees. According to Scarlett, by the end of August they had received nearly 500 reports from workers.
On September 3, 2021, the group published an open letter to Cook and the rest of the executive team, calling for signatures from fellow workers. The letter made five requests including increased privacy of personal information; transparent and fair compensation; an audit of all third-party relationships; increased accountability across leadership and human resource teams; and a process for sharing group concerns.
In October 2021, Parrish was fired from Apple, who stated she had interfered with an internal investigation by deleting material from her company phone and computer. Parrish stated she had only removed files containing her personal and financial data. Parrish told the New York Times she believed the firing was retaliation for her organizing work. In November 2021, Scarlett left Apple after reaching a non-board settlement with the company regarding the charge she had filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) nearly three months prior. She later said that Apple had tried to stipulate in a prior separation agreement that she refused to sign that she describe her decision to leave the company as a "personal decision, rather than fleeing a hostile work environment after attempting to exercise my rights and help others organize".
On November 19, 2021, Apple posted a memo affirming employees' rights to discuss pay and working conditions. While not an official response to one of the group's requests about a company-wide statement clarifying employee rights, Parrish referred to the memo as a victory for the group, and said it would "help end a systemic culture of silence around our working culture and pay equity." Veena Dubal, a law professor, stated "This is a win for workers because it shows that Apple knows they would have lost had this been adjudicated," referring to Scarlett's NLRB charge and the penalty that would have been assessed by the NLRB. Dubal also highlighted how little the enforcement of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 does to deter employers from violating these laws. Scarlett later tweeted that she had made four demands to Apple on September 2, 2021, the day after she filed the NLRB charge, one of which had been for the affirmation Apple had posted.
In December 2021, Scarlett revealed that the NLRB had rejected the withdrawal request with the non-board settlement asking Apple to make 22 changes to the language in the document, including language suppressing her from helping other Apple employees organize and file charges against Apple for a period of one year. She also confirmed that the memo posted in November was a part of the settlement she reached, but that Apple had only left it up for the week Apple had given the company off for Thanksgiving, which she said did not uphold the agreement's requirement of the memo being published "in a prominent and visible location". In a statement to The Verge, she said she would have been "interested in [withdrawing the charge without the settlement] to avoid witnesses having to give testimony," but that the group decided to follow through with the charges in the face of potential retaliation because of how the company handled the posting of the memo.
According to Scarlett, the group continued to grow, despite her and Parrish's departures.
On February 18, 2022, The Washington Post (The Post) reported that at least a "half a dozen" Apple retail locations were working on unionizing, with two looking to file petitions with the NLRB in the "near future". Employees reported that recent compensation adjustments from the company had backfired, with many reporting their raises were not enough to cover inflation. One worker told The Post, "I have a lot of co-workers and friends who I genuinely love and they do not make enough to get by." Others have criticized that while the company used to pay competitively, it has not been reflective of the record profits reported throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as described in a Medium post by an Ohio worker, Matt Herbst. Herbst said that more than 100 retail employees reached out to him to share similar stories.
Organizers alleged that since they started union activity, managers had begun surveilling workers and giving anti-union speeches. Rebecca Kolins Givan, an associate professor at Rutgers University warned that union busting activity by Apple against organizers could "tarnish" their brand.
Apple Retail Workers Union
In May 2011, exactly one decade after the first Apple store opened, Cory Moll launched the Apple Retail Workers Union in San Francisco, citing compensation, pay, benefits and hiring processes as motivations. In November, Apple launched a private training for managers on how to "manage worker unions". A source contacted CNET News to clarify that the training was not related to retail employees. In April 2013, according to a tweet Moll posted, he left the company on his own accord.
Apple Together is a solidarity union made up of corporate and retail workers, founded by Scarlett, Parrish, and other anonymous Apple workers. The website states that it is the evolution of the #AppleToo movement using the phrase "From #AppleToo to Apple Together", and the group has used the tagline "Think Equitable", a play on Apple's slogan "Think Different". The logo uses an outline of the Apple logo connected to an italicized lowercase letter 'a' in the center, resembling an at sign.
On December 24, 2021, Christmas Eve, the group staged a walkout in some retail stores and called for a consumer boycott, urging the public not to shop at the retailer on the busy holiday shopping day. The group set out a list of demands on Twitter, including hazard pay, living wages, benefits for part-time workers, and several specific requests due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as N95 masks and sanitization stations, and more strict rules around customer interactions. The walkout involved at least 50 retail employees across stores from three states, and comes following news of retail conditions around mental health issues, subpar wages, customer abuse, and poor management of the COVID-19 pandemic. The walkout started at the Jacksonville, Florida retail store, where recent aggression from customers had been ignored by the store's management.
On April 29, 2022, the group wrote an open letter to corporate management speaking out against the company's return-to-office plans asking for more flexibility around working remotely, pointing to what the group alleged would have an adverse impact on the company's diversity. The letter stated "being in the office at least 3 fixed days of the week ... will make Apple younger, whiter, more male-dominated, more neuro-normative, more able-bodied, in short, it will lead to privileges deciding who can work for Apple, not who'd be the best fit".
The corporate employees reportedly supported retail efforts to unionize, including by donating funds via The Solidarity Fund for organizing efforts. Several union organization representatives "hang out" in the union's Discord server to assist in unionizing efforts. As of May 2022, Scarlett and Parrish were members of the union as advisors.
Fruit Stand Workers United
On February 21, 2022, retail workers at the Apple store in Grand Central Terminal, in New York City, voted to affiliate themselves with Workers United. An organizer had reached out to Scarlett "distraught" after the union's prior partnership had unexpectedly dissolved. Scarlett, who had previously work for Starbucks, was helping unionize the coffee chain and connected the organizers to her Workers United contact, reviving the effort. In April 2022, the workers began gathering signatures to file a petition for union representation with the NLRB.
Apple Retail Union
On April 20, 2022, the first Apple store in the United States filed a petition for union recognition with the NLRB. The store is located in Atlanta, Georgia and of the 30% of authorization cards required for the 107-employee location in Cumberland Mall, the workers gathered 70%. The union, led by Derrick Bowles and Sydney Rhodes, refers to themselves as Apple Workers Union. The vote was scheduled to take place on June 2, 2022, but was later withdrawn after what workers alleged to be "intimidation".
In May 2022, CWA filed an unfair labor practice report against Apple, claiming the company held 'captive audience meetings' to counter unionization efforts. Also in May 2022, CWA filed another complaint, alleging Apple interrogated workers about labor activity, prohibited the posting of pro-union flyers and held mandatory anti-union presentations at the World Trade Center store.
On May 3, 2022, Apple employees working at the Genius Bar at Towson Mall in Baltimore, Maryland sent a letter to Tim Cook notifying the company of their intention to file for union recognition with the NLRB called the Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, or AppleCore. The union is affiliated with International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The workers filed a petition with the NLRB on May 4, 2022.
In June 2022 retail workers in Apple Glasgow filed paperwork to unionise, the first in the UK to do so. Affiliated with GMB Union under the banner of Apple Retail Workers Union. John Slaven of GMB stated that "These workers have shown tremendous courage and resilience to organise themselves. Apple speak the language of social justice but in practice it is the same story of low pay, unfair shift patterns and lack of respect. These workers realise they need an independent voice and that can only come through unionisation".
- Chan, Jenny; Selden, Mark; Pun, Ngai (2020). Dying for an iPhone : Apple, Foxconn, and the lives of China's workers. ISBN 978-1-64259-204-7. OCLC 1157440504.
- Amazon worker organization
- IBM worker organization
- Google worker organization
- Starbucks unions
- REI worker organization
- Taiwanese based Hon Hai Production is more commonly known as Foxconn
- Sources use conflicting pronouns/titles for Peng. Chen Peng is a woman according to the Financial Times and researcher Jenny Chan. She also goes by Peggy in the English language.
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