Apple Battles With Labor

Apple, one of America’s largest companies and the owner of the world’s most valuable brand, has run up against the sort of barrier no one would have seen coming a decade ago. Workers at an Apple retail outlet have voted to join the Communications Workers of America, a huge and powerful union that is among the oldest unions in the country. It has about 700,000 members.

The Communications Workers of America is a worthy enemy for Apple. It has brought AT&T and Verizon to their knees through strikes and bitter negotiations. The fact that the union vote took place among workers at a small store in Oklahoma should be viewed as the start of something much bigger. CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens commented about the vote: “The Penn Square Apple retail workers are an amazing addition to our growing labor movement, and we are thrilled to welcome them as CWA members.”

Apple has 272 retail locations in America, so it will have to fight unionization efforts in dozens of states. If the past is any indication, the scales are weighted toward the side of labor even if looked at over a long time period. The ability to bargain as a group is rarely something that can be delayed permanently by any company at all.

Apple, a new age company by the measure of U.S. business history, has the same challenges as another member of the group, which is Amazon. Workers at Amazon warehouses have already started successful efforts to organize. Like Apple, Amazon has resisted these efforts. Although not in the same industry as Amazon and Apple, another fairly young company — Starbucks — has decided to fight union efforts at its stores.

The success of labor unions is over a century old, although the portion of the U.S. workforce that is unionized has fallen. Car and mining companies fought union efforts for years, and eventually lost. Labor leverage came up again recently, as railroads made efforts to keep worker wages relatively low. The effects of a rail shutdown were so potentially dangerous to the economy, that President Biden shepherded an agreement.

Apple management will find it almost impossible to keep unions out of its stores for long.

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