Workers at an Apple store in Towson, Maryland have voted to unionize, forming the company’s first retail union in the United States. The move is part of the growing unionization wave sweeping the country as workers fight for better working conditions and protections, as well as against oppression.
The final union vote was 65-33 in favor of joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), though the final count is still pending. The successful vote came despite Apple’s intense union busting efforts. The trillion-dollar company hired union-busting lawyers and held captive audience meetings where they required workers to listen to anti-union messaging, a tactic also used by companies like Starbucks and Amazon. According to several organizers at the store, these tactics “definitely shook people,” and caused the union drive to lose several supporters.
While the Towson location became the first U.S. Apple store to successfully vote to unionize, it wasn’t the first one to file documents to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to request an election. An Apple store in Atlanta, Georgia filed for a union election in April of this year, and was set to hold elections in early June to join the Communication Workers of America (CWA).
However, the store canceled the vote, citing intimidation which made it impossible to hold it fairly, and filed a claim with the NLRB. Apple store workers at Grand Central Terminal in New York are also fighting to unionize.
These Apple store workers’ victory is part of a growing unionization wave sweeping the country, including at Starbucks and Amazon. This is a result of growing class consciousness on the part of workers after decades of neoliberalism have cut into their living and working conditions, and after the pandemic revealed that workers are essential — not the bosses — and that they produce the staggering wealth that is appropriated by billionaire executives like Tim Cook, Howard Schulz, and Jeff Bezos.
Apple, like Amazon and other tech companies in particular, has seen its profits explode in recent years, especially due to pandemic-fuelled purchasing. The company made over $25 billion in profits in the second quarter of this year alone, nearly 10 percent higher than the same time last year. While these companies cultivate a progressive image and point to higher-than-average hourly wages, their factory and retail workers are hyper-exploited, and their pay has not kept up with these sky-rocketing profits. In fact, although employees at the Maryland store only make around $26 an hour, by some estimates Apple earns at least half a million dollars in revenue per retail employee.
Apple has yet to comment on the Towson workers’ victory, and if the actions of Amazon and Starbucks are any indication, the company will fight unionization efforts at other locations, and fight tooth and nail to avoid having to recognize the union and negotiate a contract. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has said he will refuse to engage with the union, while Amazon is attempting to overturn the results of the successful unionization vote at a Staten Island warehouse. Both companies are also waging retaliation campaigns against their workers.
The victories at Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, and other companies are an inspiration to workers across the country. The Starbucks wave highlights that one unionized store can inspire hundreds of others, and as Apple store workers in Towson have noted, assistance from organizers at the thwarted union in Atlanta helped them achieve their victory this weekend. Only by uniting our struggles and reaching out across workplaces can we win real victories for these workers and others.
These workers deserve our full solidarity, as do these companies’ workers abroad. Apple, for example, employs a vast network of employees across the world who are hyper-exploited and earn poverty wages producing iPhones and other products. Apple store employees also need to stand with these precarious workers, ensuring that this fight doesn’t stop at national borders. Class and worker solidarity must be international, and we must continue to seize on the tremendous potential that this moment holds for the U.S. and international working class.