Leaked Audio: Apple VP Gives Apple Store Workers Anti-Union Speech

In an internal video circulated among Apple’s 58,000 retail employees, Apple’s vice-president of retail suggested that a union would make it more difficult for Apple to improve working conditions.
Tim Cook and Deirdre O'Brien leaving an apple store, crowds are applauding them.
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“We have a relationship that's based on an open and collaborative and direct engagement, which I feel could fundamentally change if a store is represented by a union under a collective bargaining agreement,” said Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s vice president of retail and people, in a six-minute video circulated yesterday among Apple’s 58,000 retail employees in the United States and obtained by Motherboard.


Details about the video were reported by The Verge earlier Wednesday; Motherboard is publishing a portion of the audio obtained from a source. The video itself is watermarked with a seemingly unique string of characters, presumably to identify anyone who leaked it to the press.

O’Brien, sitting in a wood-paneled room with a potted orchid and framed photos of Apple’s corporate campus, goes on to use other standard anti-union talking points favored by employers looking to crush unionization efforts among their workers. “I'm worried about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship, an organization that does not have a deep understanding of Apple or our business,” O’Brien continued. “And most importantly, one that I do not believe shares our commitment to you.”

The video arrives amid an unprecedented unionization drive at Apple’s retail stores. Today, Apple retail workers in Louisville, Kentucky publicly launched a union campaign, becoming the fourth U.S. store to do so since mid-April. Apple retail workers in New York City, Atlanta, and Towson, Maryland have also announced union drives. To date, Apple workers have yet to win a union election at any of the company’s 272 retail locations in the United States. 


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In the video, O’Brien also suggests that a union would make it more difficult for Apple to work on improving conditions for its retail workers. “Apple moves incredibly fast,” she says. “And I worry that, because the union would bring its own legally mandated rules that would determine how we work through issues, it could make it harder for us to act swiftly to address things that you raise.”

“It turned my stomach,” an Apple retail worker and union organizer who viewed the video and requested to remain anonymous, said. “As someone who genuinely likes my company, but is working to organize my store to hold it to its values, I’m disappointed not only in what was said in the video, but also in how convincing it will be to some people that are on the fence.”

Apple retail workers have cited pay, benefits, and unpredictable hours as reasons for their unionization push. They also want Apple, the world’s most valuable company, to share more of its profits with frontline workers who sell iPhones, MacBooks, and iPads. A large body of research indicates that union workers earn significantly more than their non-union counterparts. The benefits of unionization are even greater for Black and Latinx workers, research shows.

Earlier this month, Motherboard published a series of anti-union talking points that Apple has circulated among store leaders at unionizing retail locations. Apple has not publicly said that it opposes unionization, but these talking points along with the video suggest that Apple opposes unionization efforts at the company. 

Apple declined to comment. 

Retail workers at Apple have filed for union elections with three separate unions, the Communications Workers of America, Workers United, and the International Association of Machinists. The campaigns arrive during a moment of widespread enthusiasm for unions in the United States, and a wave of unionization of major anti-union employers including Amazon and Starbucks.