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Apple Union Organizers in Georgia Say They Were Inspired by Amazon Warehouse Workers

Mike Segar | Reuters
  • Employees at an Apple retail store in Georgia leading a unionization drive were inspired to organize by Amazon employees who tried to unionize a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama.
  • If the drive is successful, the Cumberland Mall store could be the first unionized Apple location.

Employees leading a unionization drive at an Apple retail store in Georgia were inspired by Amazon employees who tried to unionize a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, during the Covid pandemic.

The remarks, which members of the Apple union organizing committee made in an interview with CNBC, show that the high-profile union drive at an Amazon warehouse last year is having a ripple effect on other technology companies, even though that effort failed.

The unionization effort at the Apple store in the Cumberland Mall in Atlanta "started last summer, seeing what was happening in Bessemer, Alabama, with the Amazon warehouse," said Derrick Bowles, who is on the Apple Retail Union organizing committee.

Media coverage of the union drive got him interested in unionizing his workplace and eventually led him to the AFL-CIO and the Communications Workers of America, which will represent the Georgia store if employees decide to unionize in an election expected to take place in the coming weeks. He hasn't met any of the Bessemer organizers, but says he has a "massive amount of respect" for what they did.

Over 70% of the store's 107 eligible employees signed cards signifying interest in unionizing, according to an NLRB filing. More have been added since the union drive went public, the organizers said.

If successful, the Cumberland Mall store could be the first unionized Apple location.

Amazon has faced a protracted labor battle in Bessemer, Alabama, since 2020. Amazon fiercely opposed workers who wanted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, building websites urging workers to "do it without dues" and overseeing the installation of a controversial mailbox in front of the facility to collect votes.

The union drive drew national attention and support from lawmakers, including a message from President Joe Biden saying that the workers were making a "vitally important choice." Ultimately, the effort was defeated in April 2021 and again in a do-over election in March 2022, although the margin of defeat was narrower the second time. Amazon employees in a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, successfully voted to unionize earlier this month.

The Apple retail organizers have not yet faced the same level of resistance from Apple as the Bessemer workers did from Amazon, although they said it would not surprise them if Apple fights the union now that it is public.

The organizers said that they aren't angry at Apple and believe it's a good company that fights for its workers' safety. They just want a seat at the table to ask for higher wages to keep up with the cost of living and to have input on working conditions that deal with safety, such as store masking rules.

"Apple will hire the coolest people that have the most amazing abilities, thoughts, and ideas," said Elli Daniels, who is on the organizing committee. "What really brought me to the table of the union was having all of these incredible minds coming together to make sure that, not only do we have that strength in numbers, but also, 'we know what's best for us.'"

Earlier this week, employees at Apple's Grand Central Terminal store in New York City revealed that they had started to collect signatures in order to file with the NLRB for a union election with Workers United. The organizers are asking for better wages and benefits, including a minimum wage of $30 per hour.

The Cumberland Mall organizers said that they're focused on their own store and local colleagues but hope that their union drive can inspire other Apple workers at other locations.

"We're hoping that going public, and they see that we're doing this strictly out of love, and our power from organizing and forming our union, we hope that really influences them to say, 'hey, if they can do it, why can't we?'" Daniels said.

"We are pleased to offer very strong compensation and benefits for full-time and part-time employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, annual stock grants and many other benefits," an Apple spokesperson said in a statement.

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