Apple is circulating a series of anti-union talking points to store leaders to use with employees in the United States, amid fears that a wave of unionization could break out across its U.S. stores.
In the talking points, obtained by Motherboard, Apple highlights that workers could lose career growth opportunities, the ability to take time off for personal reasons, and merit-based promotions if they vote to unionize. “The quality of your work may not even be a factor,” the talking points read. It has also instructed managers to tell workers that if they unionize they could face "fewer opportunities," have less "flexibility," and that the company will pay "less attention to merit."
"There are a lot of things to consider," the talking points say. "One is how a union could fundamentally change the way we work."
In recent weeks, the first three Apple stores ever filed for union elections, in Atlanta, New York City, and Towson, Maryland. If any of them vote to unionize, workers could form the first Apple retail union in the United States.
Motherboard obtained and verified Apple’s talking points, which were attached to an email sent to Apple store leaders. “What makes a store great is having a team that works together well,” one of the talking points says. “That can’t always happen when a union represents a store’s team members.”
Managers have utilized this script in recent weeks during store meetings, known internally as “downloads,” that typically start off shifts at Apple retail stores, multiple sources told Motherboard.
It’s unclear how many Apple store leaders in the United States received a copy of these talking points but Motherboard has confirmed that they were received by leaders at multiple Apple stores. One Apple employee at a unionizing store who asked to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation told Motherboard that each of the talking points from the document had already been used by managers at their store.
While Apple has not publicly said that it opposes unionization, the talking points suggest strongly that this is the tech giant’s stance. Apple has retained Littler Mendelson, a leading anti-union law firm that is also working on Starbucks’ anti-union campaign, to represent it on union-related matters. The talking points closely resemble rhetoric recently used by Amazon and Starbucks to oppose union campaigns among their employees.
Starbucks has said workers could lose wages, benefits, and support with their immigration status if they vote to unionize and Amazon has told workers they could make the minimum wage and lose their free college tuition benefit if they unionize.
Apple retail workers say they are unionizing to have a say in their hours, pay, and benefits, and because they want to push Apple, the world’s most valuable company, to share more of its wealth with its frontline workers who sell and repair iPhones, MacBooks, and iPads. A significant body of research shows that unionized workers have significantly higher wages and stronger benefits than non-unionized workers in the same industries.
Another perk that Apple highlights that employees could lose is “career experiences,” a program that allows Apple retail employees to work in a new role and contribute to projects at Apple for their career development. In a section of the document titled, “fewer opportunities,” the script says, “many union contracts define and limit what a particular employee is allowed to do. I can’t speculate about what would happen to Career Experiences under a union—it would be subject to negotiations—but what if the contract restricted someone from doing any work outside a narrow job classification? That could mean employees wouldn’t be able to work in a different zone or pick up work as stretch assignments.”
Some Apple retail workers have said that an impetus for unionizing is having a say in the company's scheduling system, which allows them little flexibility in the pursuit of a work-life balance. But Apple argues in its talking points that workers would lose flexibility if they unionize.
“The way things work now, I have the discretion to give employees some time off if they’ve been working with a difficult customer, or to excuse an absence or later start if someone has something going on at home,” the script says. “A rigid union contract that must be followed at all times would make that very difficult.”
Apple’s script for store leaders also paints the union as an outside third-party, a popular tactic used by anti-union employers to convince employees that unions will put a wedge between workers and management. “If a union were to come into our store we would be placing many of our interactions into the hands of a third party,” the document says.
“An outside union that doesn’t know Apple or our culture would make things more complex and rigid,” it continues. “Leaders wouldn’t have the flexibility to act in the moment or address each person’s unique needs like they do now.”
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Union organizers say this argument has backfired in recent counter-offensives led by Starbucks and Amazon against union drives, as workers can see that union organizers are their colleagues.
Apple declined to comment on why it was circulating these talking points, but reiterated in a statement that it has previously sent out: "We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple. 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.”
The Apple store in Atlanta has a union election date set for June 2.