Apple Store Workers Share Why They Want to `Work Different'

By Josh Eidelson 
In These Times 
June 28, 2011

http://www.zcommunications.org/apple-store-workers-share-why-they-want-to-work-different-by-josh-eidelson

On the day Apple celebrated 10 years since opening its first
Apple Store, employee Cory Moll announced a campaign to
unionize the company's 30,000-plus retail employees. Moll
sent an e-mail to reporters declaring that "the people of
Apple are coming together to "`work different.'" "The core
issues definitely involve compensation, pay, benefits," Moll
said.

A Reuters reporter echoed the response of many journalists in
calling the union drive "unusual given Apple's reputation for
fierce employee loyalty." But interviews with workers in
three states help explain how and why some of Apple's
employees want to change the company. (All three employees
interviewed for this article requested and were provided
anonymity based on their fear of retaliation.)

A Bay Area employee described what happened last year when he
and about a dozen co-workers realized employees with years of
service were being paid less than new hires doing the same
work. Agitated about the situation but concerned about
retaliation, the workers committed to a plan: during the
approaching round of annual one- on-one meetings between
workers and managers, they would each ask about pay
disparities.

Those workers who did ask received a consistent response:
"Money shouldn't be an issue when you're employed at Apple."
Instead, managers said, the chance to work at Apple "should
be looked at as an experience." "You can't live off of
experience," said the worker interviewed. The Wall Street
Journal reported last week that Apple has outpaced Tiffany &
Co. jewelers in retail sales per square foot.

Employees said that Apple keeps its healthcare costs down by
defining even employees working 40 hours a week as part-time
if they can't guarantee open availability (availability to be
scheduled to work anytime the store is open). The three
workers interviewed said that most employees at each of their
stores either work second jobs or go to school, making open
availability impossible.

These workers are instead offered Apple's "part-time" health
insurance plan, which costs them much more and the company
much less. The Bay Area worker, who works 32 to 40 hours a
week, is currently going without medication for a serious
health condition because he can't afford the $120 to $150 a
month for the "part time" plan. "$120 a month is what I live
on after rent and bills," he said. All three employees said
that the majority of their co-workers were classified as part
time.

A Maryland worker said that Apple's understaffing can make
the workload "overwhelming" during high traffic periods and
leaves him "singled out" by frustrated customers. He said it
"adds tension and makes it a lot more difficult to be
effective" as both employees and customers become
increasingly stressed.

A New York State worker said that "our demand has outgrown
our staffing tremendously," and that he is yelled at by
customers at least once a week. He said the contrast between
the lengths Apple goes to satisfy customers and its
inflexibility in the face of employees' needs is
"demoralizing."

The same worker said he has ideas for how to make his store
run more effectively, but has no avenue to get them taken
seriously given Apple's "very top-down corporate culture." In
the past year, management made "a very big overhaul" of
workers' schedules and responsibilities at his store. For his
co-workers, it meant "less time doing the things they like to
do both at work and outside of work": less time for repairs
and more time on the floor; less consistent schedules and
more times working a night shift followed by a morning shift
hours later.

The change "wreaked havoc" on his personal life and
"strained" his relationship with his girlfriend. He calls the
new system "a drain emotionally and physically" and resents
that he had no voice in it. Though he's undecided about
unionization, he said if it happened, "the biggest benefit"
would be "just having a say in these situations."

All three workers interviewed saw organizing the stores as a
daunting task.  The Bay Area worker said he is eager to get
involved but most of his co-workers fear punishment for "even
talking about a union." He said that Apple goes out of its
way to make employees feel "extremely expendable." "For a
company that has been founded on the ideas of `think
different' and innovation," he said, "their labor practices
are anything but."

The Maryland employee said that although he wants a union,
his first reaction on hearing about Moll's e- mail was, "That
guy is going to get fired." He said after he was hired, a
trainer told him "casually" that Apple was against union
organizing and that working nonunion was part of the job. The
comment was "thrown in there with the sexual harassment
training."

Moll told industry website Inside Apple Store that he has
begun working with a "prominent national union" to organize
his own store and that he has received e-mails from workers
at 100 other stores interested in union representation.

Apple, which has more than 30,000 employees in 325 stores
around the world, did not respond to a request for comment.

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