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A brief chat with the fired #AppleToo organizer

A brief chat with the fired #AppleToo organizer


Janneke Parrish talks about rallying support within Apple — and the company’s response to employee organizing

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

On October 14th, Apple fired a leader of the #AppleToo movement for allegedly failing to comply with an internal investigation. The employee, Janneke Parrish, has been working behind the scenes for months to organize fellow employees who’ve faced harassment and discrimination.

Now, Apple appears to be cracking down on those efforts — under the guise of trying to stop internal information from leaking to the press. In September, Apple fired Ashley Gjøvik for allegedly violating her confidentiality agreement. Then, it placed software engineer Cher Scarlett on medical leave.

Both Gjøvik and Scarlett have filed claims with the NLRB. Parrish’s lawyer, Vincent P. White of White, Hilferty and Albanese, tells The Verge that Parrish plans to sue for wrongful termination and will also be filing a charge with the NLRB.

Parrish spoke with The Verge about her organizing efforts and the circumstances around her termination.

Tell me what the last few months have been like for you. You started doing internal advocacy with the Antonio García Martínez letter, right?

Janneke Parrish: Yes, and that was the first time I really saw employee activism at Apple having an impact. I was already in the remote work advocacy Slack channel at the time, wanting people to be able to make the best decisions for them in regards to how and where they work. 

But with the Antonio García Martínez letter, we saw that activism can be effective — that when we speak up, executives might listen. That led to more letters from the remote work group, asking for flexibility in terms of where we work. But we didn’t get the same response this time — the response was essentially, “We think it would be better to be back in the office.”

Employee advocacy is incredibly important to help make our voices heard, but there’s a limit to what we can do internally. If you’re speaking to people who don’t want to listen to you, you might as well not be speaking at all. 

How did you and Cher Scarlett start working together on #AppleToo?

While I was doing this work with remote advocacy, Cher was doing work with pay advocacy. We met through needing to advocate for pay equity and transitioned it into #AppleToo.

I led the employee stories component — telling the stories of workers who’ve been abused and discriminated against, who’ve reached out through the channels Apple tells us to and heard nothing. It’s the story of remote advocacy being told on a macro scale across the entire business — that we are consistently unheard and devalued. 

“Apple doesn’t need to know how much money I lost on GameStop.”

I do not know how somebody looks at hundreds of stories like that and does not take action.

So I’ve been doing that. 

What has the impact been? It seems like you haven’t gotten the same pushback internally as Cher and Ashley. 

I have received a lot of supportive messages, and no, I haven’t gotten as much criticism. I honestly don’t know why. 

I’m a program manager. I’m not an engineer, and I’m in a department that doesn’t have the same visibility theirs does. I’m in Maps, and it just doesn’t have the same visibility. I also continue to put myself out of the limelight.

And I’m in Austin, not California. A lot of Apple’s arguments around coming back to the office are very California-centric and don’t apply to people in Texas. They talk about running into people in the halls — I never run into execs in Austin!

When did the investigation start?

On September 18th, there was a town hall that was live leaked to you. And afterward, Tim Cook sent out a memo saying we’re disappointed and going to find the leakers. In the wake of that memo, Apple started doing investigations.

On September 30th, I was called into a meeting with HR and global security and told I was being investigated for possibly leaking the meeting. My devices were confiscated, but before they were, I deleted apps with personal information, like Robinhood. Apple doesn’t need to know how much money I lost on GameStop. I work on political campaigns, and Democratic political campaign information has to be kept private. 

So before turning in the devices, I removed this information. I was given a loaner and asked to continue working, which I did. 

On October 8th, I was reached out to again by global security and HR, and they said I was being suspended and took the loaner devices and deactivated all my internal accounts. I was in mid-conversation with some people, and then my internal accounts immediately showed “deactivated.”

“I believe I was fired in retaliation for speaking out”

Doing this set my work back as well. The very fact that it happened at all — I work in Maps, we work with highly confidential information, and our need to keep stuff secret is vital for our success. So even being investigated, my career on Maps was over.

On Thursday, I received a call from global security and HR saying I had been terminated for deleting the files. 

Why was that personal information on your work device in the first place?

On Maps, we’re encouraged to test out the maps and new features. My particular role was the program manager for tools, so I needed to know our tools behaved correctly. For me, using my work phone as a personal phone gave me a great opportunity to test things in the field, which we are highly encouraged to do. Apple encourages us to integrate [our personal and work devices]. When I was first issued the phone, that seemed perfectly legitimate. But in hindsight, it probably was not. 

What’s your view on why you were fired?

I believe I was fired in retaliation for speaking out, for my work with #AppleToo, and out of concern that I was organizing to help other employees tell their stories. In my view, this is entirely retaliation for trying to bring Apple’s actions to light and publicly asking the company to do better. 

Is #AppleToo done now that you’ve been fired and Cher is out on medical leave?

I absolutely don’t think so. I think seeing that Apple would rather fire an employee for speaking out and asking the company to do better instead of actually doing better says volumes about the company and its priorities. I hope people see the decision Apple has made and that it is a galvanizing decision. My goal is to make Apple better for everyone. And it seems like Apple is less interested in that than I am.