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Apple VP discourages retail workers from joining a union in leaked video

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‘I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship’

“I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship.”
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Apple vice president of people and retail Deirdre O’Brien is explicitly dissuading employees from joining a union in an internal video leaked to The Verge. “I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship,” she says. “An organization that does not have a deep understanding of Apple or our business. And most importantly one that I do not believe shares our commitment to you.”

This message comes amid union drives at three of Apple’s retail stores — one in New York, one in Maryland, and one in Georgia. The latter two have set dates to hold elections, which they agreed to with Apple. Workers at the Cumberland Mall Apple store will vote on whether to unionize starting June 2nd, and employees at Apple’s Towson Town Center store in Maryland do the same starting June 15th.

In the video, O’Brien shares common anti-union talking points, including that a union would slow the company’s ability to respond to employee concerns. “Apple moves incredibly fast,” she said. “It’s one thing I love about our work in retail. It means that we need to be able to move fast too. And I worry that because the union will bring its own legally mandated rules that would determine how we work through issues it could make it harder for us to act swiftly to address things that you raise. I’m committed to and proud of our ability to act fast to support our teams, to support you. But I don’t know that we could have moved as quickly under a collective bargaining agreement, as it could limit our ability to make immediate widespread changes to improve your experience. And I think that’s what really is at stake here.”

One of the primary issues Apple retail workers are organizing around is pay. In the United States, unionized workers make about 13.2 percent more than their non-unionized peers in the same sector, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The executive has been visiting Apple retail stores in person over the past few weeks, a move many employees say seems designed to placate workers who are trying to organize.

Apple’s actions have shown that it’s not keen on its employees organizing; it’s hired anti-union lawyers, given managers scripts to read to employees about why unions are bad, and held captive audience meetings. Apple’s messages were largely similar to what O’Brien said in the video: the company has told its workers that unions don’t understand its culture. However, the existing union drives are helmed by coalitions of Apple workers who have cited explicit critiques about Apple management’s relationship with employees. While these organizations are working with large, established unions, the efforts are led by Apple workers.

The company has also been accused of union busting in other ways twice by allegedly preventing employees from posting pro-union posters and interrogating employees about union activity.

Despite all this, the company’s executives haven’t explicitly come out with an anti-union stance until now. While Apple’s actions have been clear, its words have been relatively silent apart from individual store leads holding meetings. Now, its message is clear — and straight from the top.