Apple Store In Oklahoma City Becomes Second To Unionize

Workers said pay was adequate and benefits were good, but complained that managers’ practices often seemed arbitrary.

Apple employees at a store in Oklahoma City have voted to unionize, becoming the second of the company’s roughly 270 U.S. retail stores to do so.

The result, announced by the National Labor Relations Board on Friday night, suggests that an initial victory by a union at a store in Towson, Md., in June was not an isolated development in an organizing campaign that dates back to last year.

According to the labor board, 56 employees voted in favor of the union and 32 voted against. The workers will be represented by the Communications Workers of America, which has members at AT&T Mobility, Verizon and media companies like The New York Times, and has sought to represent tech-industry workers in recent years.

Sara Steffens, the union’s secretary-treasurer, said in a statement that workers at the store, known as the Penn Square location, had faced an aggressive anti-union campaign, but she predicted that “Apple retail workers across the country will continue to organize, especially after this momentous victory.”

Apple said in a statement that “we believe the open, direct and collaborative relationship we have with our valued team members is the best way to provide an excellent experience for our customers, and for our teams.”

In interviews, employees at the store said that they received solid benefits, like health care, stock grants and paid family leave, and that their pay had improved over the past several months. The company recently raised the minimum starting wage at its stores to $22 an hour and said it had increased starting wages by 45 percent in the United States since 2018.

But workers complained that supervisors’ decisions about hiring, pay and job assignments were often opaque and said a union would bring greater transparency to their store.

Leigha Briscoe, an employee involved in the organizing who works in sales, said employees were given very different tasks during the first year of the pandemic, when they often worked from home, with little explanation for the disparities.

“Some people were at home making posters, doing drawing projects, and others were on the phone taking calls eight hours a day,” Ms. Briscoe said. “There was a lack of clarity as to what the plan was.”

Workers also cited confusion over how to earn promotions at the store.

“Some people have been in their current roles for years trying to get promoted and are not really getting anywhere, but whenever they get feedback on an interview for a promotion what they get is very subjective goals,” said Michael Forsythe, another employee involved in the organizing, who helps oversee the repair room at the store.

Mr. Forsythe said workers were sometimes told to work on their “customer focus,” but were not given more concrete suggestions like “I want you to have a three-week average of 80 percent customer satisfaction score.”

Mr. Forsythe said the idea of unionizing first occurred to him late last year, after employees across the company had begun to protest management’s plans to bring them back to the office. The protest ballooned into a broader campaign, known as #AppleToo, that sought to highlight a variety of workplace problems, including harassment and pay disparities, and caught Mr. Forsythe’s attention.

In April, a store in Atlanta filed a petition for a union election, and Mr. Forsythe and other employees at the Oklahoma City store began to discuss unionization.

The Atlanta store later withdrew its petition, as the company announced a raise and highlighted the benefits it offered and the potential costs of unionizing, denting support for the union.

But by then, the Oklahoma City store had formed an organizing committee and more employees were expressing interest in a union. The Oklahoma City workers filed their petition in early September.

Employees said supervisors had responded to their campaign by holding round-table discussions and one-on-one conversations in which they emphasized the downsides of a union, including the dues that workers would have to pay and the possibility that they could lose benefits during the bargaining process. Supervisors also said having a union would make it harder to change workplace arrangements when they were in need of updating, like during the pandemic, according to these employees.

Workers at the Oklahoma City store said their market leader, a manager who oversees several locations, was in their store regularly during the campaign, even though they would typically see him no more than a few times a year.

Patrick Hart, an employee at the store who helps customers resolve issues with products, said the impact of the company’s response was limited because many employees did their own research about how joining a union would affect them.

“We are all extremely educated people — Apple hires a certain kind of person,” Mr. Hart said. “We know how to look into things.”

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