The Fallout From Apple’s Bizarre, Dogged Union-Busting Campaign

At a panel discussion Bowles attended in May, a meeting leader said they would be answering “team questions,” despite not knowing any questions had been solicited. “If we form a union, could we lose our benefits?” he read an anonymous question, to which the leader answered yes. Meeting leaders then listed individual perks, such as a generous mental health leave policy, and asked employees to raise their hands if they used it. “Then they’d look at people and say, ‘That mental health benefit you’re taking advantage of, that could be gone.'” Bowles notes that employees would never vote for a contract that stripped them of cherished benefits. (Union contracts must be ratified by a majority of members.)

The CWA union filed an unfair labor practice charge in response to Atlanta’s mandatory captive audience meetings, which the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel has called illegal. In Towson, Apple continued the practice, but changed the meetings from mandatory to optional, which would technically comply with the law. However, employees still felt compelled to attend. Meetings were automatically added to people’s schedules and had to be turned off if they wanted to skip them.

At some point, says Gallagher, management seemed to shift focus from unions in general to the IAM specifically. They tried to paint the union as racist, bringing up its history of excluding minorities when it was founded, “without any real historical context being the 1880s in Georgia,” Gallagher notes. “Someone said the union is run by rich white men,” says Graham DeYoung, a 15-year Apple employee and member of the Towson store’s organizing committee. “I said, ‘Hey, look at Apple’s board of directors.’

In Atlanta, managers shared a letter written by an employee at the Grand Central Station store in New York City about the union campaign there. At the time, Grand Central was affiliated with a different union, Workers United. WIRED reviewed the letter, in which the employee professed support for unions, but wrote: “I do not support THIS union … We are absolutely allowed to have differences of opinion, we don’t all have to want the same things, or friends but the whispers, meanness, DEATH THREATS and ridiculous conspiracy theories and plots to take each other down has to stop!

The idea that organizers were issuing death threats “was a preposterous thing to do in the first place,” Bowles says. “But when it was published in our store, it was very clear that the intention was to associate our organizing committee with this kind of thing.”

Employees at both stores say managers amplified the voices of anti-union staff. Gallagher says that when she called employee relations to complain about a co-worker who spread false rumors about members of the organizing committee, she was told that the employee was entitled to his opinion. In Atlanta, Rhodes says, a shop leader told union supporters they couldn’t discuss the union during work hours, but allowed anti-union staff to freely push their rhetoric.

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