From a progressive messiah, Tim Cook is about to become the labor union’s nemesis.
According to Bloomberg, Apple – the world’s most valuable company with well over $100 billion in cash – is withholding its latest employee benefits from staff who work at its sole unionized retail store, “a move that could potentially inflame labor tensions at the technology giant.”
The news for Apple employees was good and bad: on one hand, the company told retail and corporate staff this week that it will increase benefits for outside educational classes and health care, according to Bloomberg sources, who added that workers will get more funds to pursue coursework, and employees in some states will be able to access new health plan benefits.
This new-found generosity is part of a broader effort to reward workers at the company, which has had to navigate inflationary pressure, a tight labor market and changing demands of workers during the pandemic. But not all workers. The bad news is for the company’s union workers: Apple was quick to inform the employees at its unionized retail location – a store in the Baltimore suburb of Towson, Maryland – that they wouldn’t get the new perks.
The reason offered was that the Towson store needs to negotiate benefits with Apple via the collective bargaining arrangement that comes with a union. To be sure, the approach isn’t unique to Apple. Excluding unionized stores from new benefits has also been a flashpoint in the labor dispute at Starbucks where about 250 cafes have voted to unionize over the past year. Like Apple, Starbucks rolled out a series of new perks at nonunion stores, including raises and student-debt coaching, while saying that it can’t legally provide them unilaterally to sites with union activity.
While Apple’s decision could dissuade employees in other cities from unionizing their stores, but it also could further upset workers, especially with more employees likely to unionize soon.
As Bloomberg reports, employees at an Apple store in Oklahoma City are due to vote this week whether to join the Communications Workers of America, and labor groups are looking to mobilize workers at more of the company’s US stores in the coming months. The iPhone maker also has contended with some employee pushback in its office staff, which was ordered back to in-person work in recent months.
The new benefits include:
Apple prepaying some tuition for outside education. The company has long reimbursed employees for a portion of education costs, but the iPhone maker will now pay the amount in advance. This will start at a small amount of colleges, though the list is expected to expand over time.
A program with Coursera Inc. beginning on Jan. 1 that gives Apple employees a free membership. Coursera is an online-course provider that normally charges $399 per year for its premium subscription.
In certain states, including Connecticut, New York, Georgia, Washington and New Jersey, employees will get access to a new health care plan that waives co-pays for some Apple-approved doctors within the UnitedHealth Group Inc. network.
So what about Apple’s sole blacklisted store? Well, the store in Maryland which is represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, is preparing to begin formal negotiations with Apple. Its labor group in recent days supplied employees with guides to negotiate with Apple and hold conversations with managers.
According to an internal survey provided with the guide that was obtained by Bloomberg News, the No. 1 bargaining priority at that location is general wage increases, followed by cost-of-living adjustments, improved work-life balance, better communication and more staffing.
In short: more money which is hardly surprising, and is also why Apple hopes to make life for unionized workers hell.
Unfortunately for Tim Cook, his labor union problems are just starting. Apple’s union-related moves have been under heavy scrutiny in recent weeks, with the US National Labor Relations Board and Communications Workers of America accusing the iPhone maker of discriminating against pro-union employees. In the Starbucks case, the union said it waived the right to negotiate over receiving perks that were already being provided to other stores — meaning employees should just get them automatically. Workers United, the group attempting to organize Starbucks cafes, described the denial of benefits as a union-busting tactic.