Running a Business? Having Someone to Call for Labor Advice is a Good Idea

Kollman & Saucier
Kollman & Saucier

Things are really heating up between Apple, Inc. (“Apple”) and the Communication Workers of America, AFL-CIO (“CWA”).  The CWA has been campaigning at numerous Apple retail stores, attempting to gain a foothold in the sector.  Earlier this year, an Apple store in Towson, Maryland voted to unionize, becoming Apple’s first US unionized location.  That store’s employees are represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union.  Last week 64% of employees working in an Apple store in Oklahoma City voted for representation by the CWA.  Once the NLRB certifies the vote, Oklahoma City will be the second Apple retail store where employees are represented.

CWA is not stopping, and seems focused on breaking into the retail sector through Apple.  Earlier this year, CWA abandoned a bid in Atlanta at a third Apple retail store that was headed to vote.  CWA claimed Apple was violating labor law which made a fair election impossible.  These types of statements are typical when a Union believes it does not have the support it will need to win an election, but the fact that the campaign came so close to a vote is concerning.

In a similar fashion in May, the CWA filed an unfair labor practice charge in New York related to conduct it alleges occurred during a campaign in a Manhattan, New York retail store.  CWA claimed an Apple manager interrogated employees, surveilled employees, prohibited the posting of pro-union literature, and held mandatory meetings discouraging unionization.  Reuters has published the redacted charge on its website.  Last week the NLRB issued a complaint on  two of the allegations in the charge and set a hearing on the matter for December 13th.

It is clear that Apple has a long road ahead with CWA and navigating the active campaign at multiple retail stores will be a difficult task.  But Apple has its own offensive measures to employ.  Last week, Apple announced a revised tuition assistance and healthcare benefit plan that it will offer its retail store employees.  In its announcement, Apple also stated that Towson, MD’s unionized store will not have access to those benefits. Apple maintains  that it did not extend the benefits to the employees in Towson because it  is required to negotiate with the employees’ union before making any benefit changes, even if those changes would be for the better. This announcement was pointed and could dissuade future pro-union votes, and, unless motivated by anti-union animus,  it is a completely legitimate and defensible tactic.

The important takeaway here is unions are not going away and it is important to know the law and what you as an employer are allowed to do to retain direct engagement with your employees.  Apple, a multinational corporation with a GDP larger than many countries, obviously has strong legal advisors to help it navigate CWA’s campaign.  There is a fine line of fair conduct that is above board when dealing with employees, and there is conduct that can land you in front of the NLRB to defend a charge.  That illustrates an important point: if you suspect union activity at your business, it is important that you know the rules. 

If you have any questions about how to navigate a unionized workforce, or you have concerns regarding the possibility of union activities at your business, contact an attorney at Kollman & Saucier, P.A. and we can offer you guidance on what you can and cannot do.

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