Business Maverick

Business Maverick

Apple illegally interrogated staff about union, judge rules

Apple illegally interrogated staff about union, judge rules
Apple Inc. iPhone 14 smartphones at the company's store in the Gangnam District of Seoul, South Korea, on Friday, March 31, 2023.

Apple Inc “coercively interrogated” retail employees about their pro-union sympathies and restricted the circulation of union flyers, a US labour board judge ruled, marking a victory for labor organisers at the world’s most valuable company.

In a decision on Tuesday, a National Labor Relations Board judge wrote that Apple violated the rights of employees at its World Trade Centre store in New York City, one of several around the country where workers waged union campaigns last year.

The judge wrote that Apple should be required to “cease and desist” from coercively interrogating workers about their legally protected labour activism. It should stop confiscating pro-union literature in its break rooms and “interfering with, restraining or coercing employees” in the exercise of their rights, according to the decision.

Tuesday’s decision is the first time an NLRB judge has ruled against Apple. Rulings by the NLRB’s administrative law judges can be appealed to the labour board’s members in Washington and, from there, to federal appeals court. The agency has the authority to order changes to company policies, but not to hold executives personally liable for violations or to impose punitive damages.

An Apple spokesperson didn’t have an immediate comment. The Cupertino, California-based company has previously denied wrongdoing.

“Apple fosters an open and inclusive work environment whereby employees are not just permitted, but encouraged, to share their feelings and thoughts on a range of issues, from social justice topics to pay equity to anything else that they feel is an important cause to promote in the workplace,” company attorney Jason Stanevich said at a January hearing before the judge.

At the January hearing, NLRB attorney Ruth Weinreb said that as a result of the company’s behaviour, “the organising campaign came to an end” at the World Trade Center site. US labour board prosecutors have also issued a still-pending complaint accusing Apple of violating workers’ rights at an Atlanta store, one of two at which organisers filed and then withdrew unionisation petitions.

Workers at two of Apple’s roughly 270 retail stores voted to unionise last year, in Maryland and Oklahoma, amid a broader wave of landmark organising wins at longtime nonunion firms such as Starbucks Corp., Amazon.com Inc. and Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.

The Communications Workers of America — the union behind the World Trade Center campaign and the Oklahoma win — said “Workers should take notice” of the NLRB judge’s ruling.

“What Apple executives are doing is wrong,” the group’s secretary-treasurer, Sara Steffens, said in a statement, “and we have your back, and will hold them accountable.” DM

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