Apple retail employees in Atlanta are accusing the company of violating the National Labor Relations Act by holding captive audience meetings to counter an ongoing union drive at the site. The Communications Workers of America, which is working to organize the store, filed an unfair labor practice reporting the activity earlier today.
Workers at the Cumberland Mall Apple store filed for a union election in April. They say that while they love the company, they want to have a bigger say in their compensation, benefits, and store health protocols.
The Cumberland store is one of three retail locations where workers have launched official union drives. Many more are in the process of organizing.
Apple hasn’t said publicly whether or not it supports the union, but the company has distributed anti-union talking points to some store managers, according to Vice. It has also hired well-known anti-union lawyers from Littler Mendelson to respond to the Atlanta union campaign.
The company has started posting a two-page note in retail stores laying out Apple’s benefits and commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Captive audience meetings are a controversial tactic in which workers are required by their bosses to attend meetings with anti-union messaging. Historically, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has allowed captive audience meetings up until the 24-hour period before an election. But an April 7th memo from NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo argued that such meetings violate the National Labor Relations Act, indicating that the board will take more aggressive action against the tactic going forward.
“This license to coerce is an anomaly in labor law, inconsistent with the Act’s protection of employees’ free choice,” Abruzzo wrote. “It is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of employers’ speech rights.”
The new policy is particularly relevant given Apple’s management practices for its retail employees. The company’s retail store shifts typically begin with a “daily download” meeting where leaders share news about the company. Since the union efforts have started to gain national attention, workers at brick and mortar locations across the country tell The Verge these meetings have started to incorporate themes like how to maintain a store’s culture and take advantage of existing benefits, as well as overt anti-union talking points.