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Apple’s record isn’t exactly stellar when it comes to labor rights and unionization activities, but some positive change has finally arrived. The company has agreed to let a third-party firm conduct an independent analysis of the company’s labor practices covering workers’ right to organize and demand better terms. Interestingly, the folks behind the landmark agreement cite a Microsoft commitment from June 2022 in which the company announced a labor neutrality approach, promising non-interference and allowing employees to freely engage in unionization activities.
According to a statement released by the Office of the New York City Comptroller, Apple reached an agreement with five New York City Retirement Systems, Trillium ESG Global Equity Fund, SOC Investment Group, Parnassus Investments, Service Employees International Union Master Trust Pension Plan, and the Greater Manchester Pension Fund. The coalition of investors behind the move, which collectively commands $7 billion worth of Apple stock, filed a petition for such an agreement back in September 2022.
In its SEC filing, Apple says it plans to “conduct an assessment on Apple’s efforts to comply with its Human Rights Policy” before the ongoing year comes to an end. The independent auditing firm hasn’t been finalized yet, but the coalition is eyeing an entity that has expertise in labor rights and has a pro-unionization attitude. The agreement is quite a remarkable move, as Apple has been accused of union-busting conduct on numerous occasions in the past.
A shady record of busting unionization
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Apple is currently being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board for allegedly forcing workers to attend meetings discussing an anti-union agenda, surveillance, banning union material, and even interrogating them. Overall, Apple is accused of labor law violations at six stores, as per charges filed by workers. Apple retail employees have already unionized across multiple locations in its home market, and just last month, Apple Store staff at White City in London also joined the rising tide of unionization.
In May 2022, a leaked internal video (via Vice) showed Apple’s vice president of people and retail Deirdre O’Brien discouraging employees from joining unionization activities. In the video, the Apple executive claimed that unions slow down the pace at which a company responds to employee grievances. According to a leaked memo obtained by Vice, Apple even circulated anti-union literature among employees to dissuade them from organizing. In April 2022, Apple hired lawyers (via The Verge) at a law firm named Littler Mendelson, which is known for anti-union activities.
But it appears that lip service won’t cut it this time around. The Communications Workers of America has urged Apple to “commit to a true policy of neutrality toward union organizing efforts,” adding that workers deserve respect and an independent voice instead of another high-and-mighty act of corporate image management without any meaningful impact. Notably, Apple also fell out of Glassdoor’s Top 100 “best places to work (2023)” list in the United States for the first time since 2009.