Apple retail workers vote to unionize a store in Maryland


Workers at Apple’s Towson Town Center store in Maryland have voted to unionize, with 65 yeses and 33 nos. Around 110 employees were eligible to vote in the election.

The store is the first Apple retail location in the US to hold a union election, after organizers in Atlanta withdrew their petition to hold a union vote, which had been scheduled to take place in early May.

Organizing at the Towson store has been done by a group of employees that called themselves AppleCORE (an acronym for Coalition of Organized Retail Employees). The workers have said they want to expand their rights, specifically asking for a say when it came to paying, hours, and safety. AppleCare is associated with a larger, established union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Apple hasn’t welcomed the multiple unionization campaigns at its stores with open arms. The company hired anti-union lawyers and had a store and even corporate leadership tell employees why they shouldn’t join a union. Organizers in Atlanta even withdrew their petition to hold an election, claiming that Apple’s behavior made it impossible to have a fair vote, and the company has been accused of union-busting via captive audience meetings at two separate locations.

Currently, there aren’t any other union elections scheduled at US Apple retail stores. However, workers at Apple’s Grand Central store in New York are in the process of collecting the signatures needed to petition for a vote, in association with the Communications Workers of America union. There are also efforts to organize an Apple store in Louisville, Kentucky.

Amazon, the world’s largest private employer after Walmart, is worried it will run out of available US warehouse labor by 2024, according to internal research obtained by Recode.

“If we continue business as usual, Amazon will deplete the available labor supply in the US network by 2024,” the unidentified authors of the research note wrote. Quartz has not been able to independently verify the contents of this document, reportedly published in 2021. An Amazon spokesperson downplayed its implications.

“There are many draft documents written on many subjects across the company that is used to test assumptions and look at different possible scenarios but aren’t then escalated or used to make decisions. This was one of them. It doesn’t represent the actual situation, and we are continuing to hire well in Phoenix, the Inland Empire, and across the country,” the spokesperson, Rena Lunak, told Quartz.

Amazon’s retail business depends on a global network of hundreds of fulfillment centers to complete orders. The company is growing outside the US but still depends on its home country for about 70% of its retail-business sales, according to its most recent quarterly financial report (pdf). To keep up with demand and maintain its dominant market position, Amazon will have to solve its warehouse staffing challenge amid a broader reshuffling in the US labor market.

The Amazon memo made its dire forecast based not on the entire US labor force, but on a specific pool of workers that the company deems eligible or likely to work at its fulfillment centers, based on demographic and location data. In certain markets, like Phoenix, Arizona, the pressures are immediate: Amazon was projected to exhaust that potential workforce by the end of 2021. Recode reports that the company loosened enforcement of workplace policies in its Phoenix warehouses to reduce turnover.

Amazon also is seeing pushback from employees who stick around. Its workers have attempted to unionize in multiple warehouses around the US, and in April they succeeded at a warehouse in New York’s Staten Island. The company has tried to quash organizing efforts, but even without them, warehouse workers are increasingly vocal about things like insufficient bathroom breaksdangerous working conditions, and a culture of surveillance in Amazon facilities.

In one survey of 31,000 former warehouse employees, referenced in the memo, employees reported improved working conditions at Amazon competitors FedEx and Walmart. According to Recode, the survey found that employees who left Amazon to join another company “rated Amazon significantly worse on work fitting skills or interests, demands of the work, shift length, and shift schedule.”

To fix its warehouse labor problem, Amazon may need to truly address those gripes, while also attracting new talent, fending off competition, and improving automated systems at its locations.

When covid-19 hit, many retailers shut down or limited in-person shopping. Amazon thrived. The company’s profit hit $8.1 billion in the first three quarters of 2021, up 220% year over year. Today, Amazon has roughly 200 million people paying $139 per year for Amazon Prime, which also acclimated its customers to one-day shipping.

All that e-commerce demand led to a surge in demand for fulfillment workers: Amazon’s global workforce grew almost 75% during the pandemic. In the last quarter of 2021—peak holiday shopping season—Amazon fell short of its plans to hire 150,000-plus people, chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky said on a February earnings call. But over the course of the second half of the year, Amazon hired some 270,000 new employees.

To keep more workers coming, and improve churn levels that can top 100%, Amazon has raised minimum hourly wages to as much as $18 an hour and even dropped marijuana testing for prospective applicants. But it’s clear that even Amazon knows it’s getting harder to find people who consider working in Amazon fulfillment fulfilling.

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