TOWSON, Md. ( Associated Press) – The historic vote by employees of a Maryland Apple store to unite – a first for the technology giant – is an important step in a long process that, according to labor experts, is heavily laden with workers in favor of their employers .
Employees of Apple stores in a suburb of Baltimore on Saturday voted by a nearly 2-to-1 margin to unite unions, which joined growing pressure across the U.S. retail, service and technology industries to organize for greater workplace protection.
It is not yet clear whether the recent wave of unions represents a broader shift in U.S. labor. But experts say the current shortage of workers for hourly and low-wage jobs means workers have more power than they have historically had, especially when unemployment is low.
“It’s not such a big deal to lose one of these jobs because you can still get a messy job,” said Ruth Milkman, a labor scholar at City University of New York.
The question is, what happens now?
Apple retailers in Towson, Maryland, voted 65-33 to seek access to the International Association of Machinists and Aviation Workers, the union said in a statement. The National Council on Labor Relations must now certify the outcome. A spokesman referred initial inquiries about the vote to the board’s regional office, which was closed late Saturday. The board did not respond to an Associated Press message Sunday.
Once the vote is certified, the union and Apple can begin negotiating a contract.
“Labor law in the United States is a long process. And the fact that a single store is negotiating or electing a union does not mean that there is a negotiated contract in the workplace. And we know in recent history that parties in many of these situations are unable to reach an initial contract, ”said Michael Duff, a former NLRB lawyer and professor at the University of Wyoming College of Law, Sunday. said.
“The employer in the United States has a lot of rights to simply withdraw recognition at the end of the process. The employer can prove that he no longer supports a majority of the employees in the bargaining unit, ”Duff added.
Even after a union is certified, a company has a number of legal maneuvers at its disposal to combat it, Duff said. For example, Apple can say it does not believe that the bargaining unit certified by the NLRB is an appropriate bargaining unit. and refuses to negotiate with the union.
“If that happens, the whole case goes to the courts and it can easily take a year or two before you even get the question of whether the employer is obligated to negotiate with the union,” Duff added.
Labor experts say it is common for employers to drag out the bargaining process in an effort to extract momentum from union campaigns. It is also possible that Apple – or any other company – will restructure its business so that the union workers are reclassified as independent contractors and not employees, in which case the union vote is undecided, Duff said.
Apple declined to comment on Saturday’s development, company spokesman Josh Lipton told The Associated Press by telephone. Again reached Sunday, Apple did not comment.
The successful vote serves to inspire workers across the country to organize, says John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University.
“Workers are already organizing at other Apple stores, but it shows them the company is not invincible,” he said.
Apple’s well-known brand name is likely to help as well.
“The public has a very direct relationship with companies like Apple, so the first union victory will generate tremendous traditional media and social media coverage,” Logan said. “Young workers are learning trade union activism through this coverage, and some are likely to be inspired to try to organize their own workplaces.”
Despite the fact that U.S. labor laws are being piled against workers, Duff said he thinks “if there is going to be a resurgent labor movement in the United States, it will happen just like that.”
Union organization in a variety of fields has recently gained momentum after decades of declining U.S. union membership. Organizers have worked to form unions at companies including Amazon, Starbucks, Google parent company Alphabet and outdoor retailer REI.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the Apple employees who wanted to join said they had sent Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, notice last month that they wanted to form a union. The statement said their motivation was to look for “rights we do not currently have.” It added that the workers had recently organized into the Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, or CORE.
“I welcome the courage that CORE members have shown at the Apple Store in Towson in achieving this historic victory,” said IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. said in the statement. “They made a huge sacrifice for thousands of Apple employees across the country who had all eyes on this election.”
Martinez called on Apple to respect the election results and to allow the union workers to expedite efforts to secure a contract at the Towson location.
The IAM counts itself as one of the largest and most diverse industrial unions in North America, representing approximately 600,000 active and retired members in the aviation, defense, airline, rail, transit, healthcare, automotive and other industries. Logan said the Apple victory shows that the established labor movement “is able to adapt itself to the needs of the group of independent, self-assured workers you find at Apple stores.”
The Apple retail union vote comes against the backdrop of other labor organization efforts nationwide – some of which have been rejected.
Amazon workers at a warehouse in New York City voted in April to join a union, the first successful U.S. organizing effort in the retail giant’s history. However, workers at another Amazon warehouse on Staten Island overwhelmingly rejected a union bid last month. Meanwhile, Starbucks workers at dozens of U.S. stores have voted to join unions in recent months, after two of the coffee chain’s stores in Buffalo, New York, voted to join unions late last year.
Many union efforts were led by young workers in their 20s and even in their teens. A group of Google engineers and other workers formed the Alphabet Workers Union last year, which represents about 800 Google employees and is run by five people under 35.
“This is the generation with the kind of worldview that is really different from what we’ve seen in many generations,” CUNY’s Milkman said. “They believe in this.”