Apple illegally interfered with union organizing in Atlanta, labor board finds

In April, an Apple Store in Atlanta became the first of the company’s American retail locations to file for a union election. Yet about a month later, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) withdrew its request for an election. The labor union alleged that Apple was using illegal union-busting tactics to influence voting, like interrogating workers and requiring them to attend daily, mandatory anti-union meetings. Now, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found merit to the CWA’s complaint that these anti-union activities were illegal.

“Apple executives think the rules don’t apply to them. Holding an illegal forced captive audience meeting is not only union-busting, but an example of psychological warfare,” said Tom Smith, CWA Organizing Director, in a statement. “We commend the NLRB for recognizing captive audience meetings for exactly what they are: a direct violation of labor rights.”

In April, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued a memo saying that captive audience meetings are inherently inconsistent with the rights employees have under the National Labor Relations Act. In the past, NLRB representatives had ruled that these meetings were permissible.

Apple workers have successfully won two unions amid an uptick in national labor organizing: one in Oklahoma City and one in Maryland. Yet Apple has deliberately tried to dissuade workers from joining a union. In May, the trillion-dollar company’s vice president of people and retail Deirdre O’Brien sent a video to 58,000 retail staff about unions.

“I worry that because the union would bring its own legally mandated rules, that would determine how we work through issues,” O’Brien said. “It could make it harder for us to act to swiftly address things that you raise.”

According to a memo leaked to Motherboard in May, Apple also sent anti-union talking points to some store leaders.

“An outside union that doesn’t know Apple or our culture would make things more complex and rigid,” one talking point says. “Leaders wouldn’t have the flexibility to act in the moment or to address each person’s unique needs like they do now.”

Apple retains the same anti-union law firm, Littler Mendelson, that represents companies like Amazon and Starbucks, which have also been found by the NLRB to have violated labor laws. But employees organizing have said that they want a union to ensure they get wage increases consistent with inflation and equitable stock options.

“We think having union representation and a collective bargaining agreement is the best way to make lasting change at Apple and to make sure that the company follows through on its promises and makes the credo more than just a poem printed on cardstock,” the Apple Retail Union says on its website.

TechCrunch has reached out to Apple for comment.