Apple works together to bring corporate workers into union efforts

earlier this year, Former Apple software engineer, Cher Scarlett, received a DM from an Apple retail employee at New York’s Grand Central Station. The employee was working with a union to organize her shop, but the partnership was dissolved. Headless, I sent a letter to Scarlett to vent. The employee knew Scarlett as the founder of #AppleToo, a campaign that emerged last summer to highlight alleged discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Scarlett was an outspoken advocate for workers’ rights, and she only knew who to call.

Scarlett recently met an organizer with the United Workers Organization at a rally for union employees at Starbucks, where she used to work. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute. You’re in New York. The United Labor Organization started in New York. I have a connection.'” An introduction was made, and the Grand Central campaign was revived. In April, they announced their organizational campaign, calling themselves Fruit Stand Workers United.

The campaign is one of many union efforts taking place at Apple Stores across the country, both public and underground. They’ve found growing support from current and former employees at Apple’s offices, thanks in part to a solidarity union called Apple Together, which Scarlett helped found and that grew out of the #AppleToo campaign. The group’s Discord server has grown to more than 250 employees and provides a space to swap stories, share resources, and learn about campaign organization and coordination. Roughly a third of the group hails from the company’s workforce, with the rest coming from retail stores and AppleCare. Several vetted union representatives hang out on Discord, ready to talk to anyone interested in organizing their workplace.

The forum also helps workers learn when to share their personal struggles. “There have been many people who have joined our Discord server who have said that seeing these Stories is what really enabled them to speak for themselves,” says Janneke Parrish, a former Apple Maps program manager who helped organize Apple Together. (Parish was fired last year after helping organize #AppleToo. Apple said her firing was not in retaliation, while Parrish disagrees.)

Apple’s culture is notorious for secrecy, working to isolate workers from one another in order to protect upcoming launches. One of the organizers of Apple Together, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, says that this secrecy about products sometimes extends to working conditions. But between the launch of Slack in 2019 and the founding of Apple Together, “this is probably the least we’ve seen in years,” she said.

The emergence of Apple Together coincides with an inflection point for the company’s workforce, which has been challenging Apple on issues ranging from pay equity to back-to-office policy. Workers at the Cumberland Mall in Atlanta petitioned for a union election in late April with American communications workers, and this month employees in Towson, Maryland, filed for an election with the International Association of Machine and Space Workers. The Grand Central Station Store collects autographs and also plans to give them.

At the Tucson site, employees are finally hoping to have a say in their working conditions, says Kevin Gallagher, who has worked there for several years. “I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the kind of work and skill required to do the work we do,” he says. “People think, ‘Oh, it’s a retail store. These must be teenagers doing work while in college. We have people in their fifties and sixties who work here and do highly skilled labor.”

Gallagher recalls how Apple offered customers free battery replacements in 2016, flooding retail sites with affected customers without fundamentally changing staffing levels. (It didn’t help, he says, that exposed iPhone batteries caught fire during the repair process, something known in the industry as a “heat event.”) It seemed to him that no one in the company had thought about how the program would affect retail employees. That pattern would reappear in the following months and years, he says, such as when the company lifted the mask mandate and several of his co-workers later contracted Covid-19. Apple declined to comment for this story.

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