Last month, Towson, Maryland, became the first US retail store to vote to unionize, joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). Workers launched a Change.org petition a week and a half later, calling Apple’s union-busting campaign “nothing short of traumatic for many of us,” and urging the company to refrain from waging similar blitzes at other stores, where several mostly underground campaigns are underway. “We are deeply concerned about the mental wellbeing of our fellow employees because we are all too aware of what awaits them if they decide to organize a union,” they wrote.
The anti-union campaign of Apple still has an aftertaste, despite the pro-union employees’ continued celebration of their victory. Employees claim that some managers who were fed anti-union talking points to deliver during the campaign still harbor animosity toward union supporters, whining when they miss work and portraying them as lazy.
Relationships that have broken down frequently as a result of abrasive anti-union campaigns are particularly common in smaller workplaces like Apple stores. Consultants and remote employee relations staff are frequently flown in to spearhead anti-union drives at large workplaces like Amazon warehouses.
With smaller teams, management-side law firms frequently advise companies that “local managers or supervisors will be the most effective anti-union shock troops,” according to John Logan, a labor studies professor at San Francisco State University. They know the employees and are generally regarded as more trustworthy than outsiders. “But there’s potentially a very high cost to doing that. Because if it’s very adversarial, as these campaigns usually are, it can poison workplace relationships for years to come.”
Early in the following year, they intend to regroup and reapply. Employees at both stores claim that managers falsely attempted to portray members of the organizing committee as bullies. According to Sydney Rhodes, a member of the Atlanta organizing committee, “the first time that they talked about it, they mentioned that we bullied people into thinking that a union is something that we need without giving them the information.”
Kevin Gallagher, a member of the organizing committee in Towson, claims that following the union’s victory there, managers there informed staff that they should expect an apology for any “ill words” said about them. Another member of the organizing committee looked through the chat history in their company’s messaging app, but neither he nor Gallagher could understand what this meant.
Given the company’s public commitment to progressive values and inclusivity, Apple employees felt particularly unprepared for the ferocity of the campaign.
When the Atlanta employees couldn’t gather enough signatures for a letter they intended to send management, which served as a gauge of support, they ultimately withdrew their petition.
Although the anti-union campaign demoralized some workers, it also helped to organize them. DeYoungGraham DeYoung, a 15-year Apple employee and organizing committee member at the Towson store, was debating whether or not to join the union when he first learned about it.
His conservative upbringing taught him not to bite the hand that gives him food. But “seeing the tactics of the company that I put my neck out for 15 years, that sealed the deal for me.”