Photo credit — Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine
On April 20, Apple retail store workers in Atlanta announced they filed with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election to be represented by the Communications Workers of America. The Atlanta store is the first group of Apple workers to file for union election in the United States, and should they win their election they will become the first certified union at Apple as well as the largest certified unit of tech retail workers. According to CWA, the workers filed with signed union authorization cards from over 70% of the more than 100 eligible workers which includes salespeople, technicians, creatives, and operations specialists.
The U.S. tech industry giants rely on a two-tier workforce where relatively well-treated office workers design the companies’ products while a massive workforce of temps, vendors, contractors, retail workers, and more help sell, repair, and maintain the popular technology. Retail workers at Apple are quite skilled in fact, providing sales and repair services for a huge range of high-tech products, yet they do not get paid enough to afford basic needs. When speaking to why they unionized, Apple worker and CWA union member Elli Daniels said, “we want to make sure that every Apple worker is able to afford quality housing and basic living expenses.”
The Atlanta store filing with CWA came one day after news broke that Workers United, a Service Employees International Union affiliate, is attempting to organize an Apple retail store in New York City. The Workers United campaign in NYC is still in earlier stages of their union effort and has yet to file for union certification or demonstrate a majority of support from the workers. Additionally, on April 22 news broke that the Apple store organization extended far beyond the two union campaigns in Atlanta and New York City, but in fact at many locations across the country.
This milestone in union organizing at Apple comes in the context of a wave of activism across the company over the last year as well as the growing unionization movement in the tech industry as a whole. The Atlanta Apple retail workers organized as a part of the Communication Workers of America’s CODE-CWA campaign to organize tech, game, and digital workers. Over the past two years CODE-CWA has launched the Alphabet Workers Union that who recently won their first bargaining unit, certified the first union of video game workers in the United States, and recently won the largest union election of over 600 tech workers at the New York Times — signaling a major shift in the fight to unionize tech.
While Apple workers ramp up their union organizing efforts, other parts of the labor movement are also experiencing major successes. Workers in New York won the first union at a U.S. Amazon warehouse, and there is a wave of worker organizing sweeping Starbucks. This demonstrates that big national companies can be unionized with enough perseverance, strategy, and patience. This is especially true in the period since the pandemic hit, where workers are being increasingly aware of the economic system that lives off of their exploitation, union approval is at its highest since 1965 and the so-called “worker shortage” gives workers more leverage to take action.
Apple generated $365.8 billion in sales across 2021, due in large part to the knowledgeable retail store staff that sell their products but struggle to meet their basic expenses. Technology has the potential to be liberating, to free workers from unnecessary labor and make our lives more connected and communicative – yet under the pressures of the capitalist market that technology is little more than a commodity to be bought and sold for profit at the expense of an exploited workforce. The unionization of workers at tech giants like Apple and Google are a sign of growing worker power in technology, which is a positive development for the entire working class.