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US labor officials say Apple violated the law by allegedly interrogating employees

US labor officials say Apple violated the law by allegedly interrogating employees and holding mandatory meetings about unionization

Britney Nguyen Dec 6, 2022, 7:13 PM

REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer

  • An Atlanta NLRB director found merit to allegations that Apple violated labor law.

  • The allegations included that Apple held captive audience meetings, interrogated workers, and made coercive statements.

  • The NLRB said a formal complaint will be issued against Apple if it doesn't settle the charges.

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The National Labor Relations Board said Apple violated federal law at an Atlanta retail location in relation to union efforts at the store.

The board's regional director for Atlanta found merit to allegations of captive audience meetings, coercive statements, and interrogation, Kayla Blado, an NLRB spokesperson, told Insider.

Blado said the regional director will issue a formal complaint if Apple doesn't settle the charges, which would lead to a hearing in front of NLRB's Administrative Law Judge. Apple would be able to appeal any ruling from an NLRB judge, and such complaints can eventually make their way to federal court.

Apple, which did not respond to Insider's request for comment, has previously denied wrongdoing in a complaint with similar allegations concerning a New York Apple Store.

The Communications Workers of America, the union that filed an unfair labor practice report against Apple in May, accused the company of holding mandatory meetings at its location in the Atlanta Cumberland Mall that discouraged union membership, a press release from the group said.

"Apple executives think the rules don't apply to them," Tom Smith, organizing director of the CWA said in the press release.

"Holding an illegal forced captive audience meeting is not only union-busting, but an example of psychological warfare. We commend the NLRB for recognizing captive audience meetings for exactly what they are: a direct violation of labor rights." 

Jennifer Abruzzo, general counsel of the NLRB, urged in a memo in April that the NLRB should find mandatory meetings, where employees are forced to listen to an employer speak about their labor rights, a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. As Bloomberg notes, successfully arguing this in a case against a company would represent a change in precedent, as the meetings have previously not been considered a violation of the law.

Apple's retail chief, Deirdre O'Brien, told workers in May that they have a right to unionize, but they also have a right to decline union membership, Bloomberg reports. The company's relationship with its employees is based on "open and collaborative direct engagement," she said in a video address to staffers, according to the report.

"And I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship," she said, per Bloomberg. "An organization that doesn't have a deep understanding of Apple or our business, and most importantly, one that I do not believe shares our commitment to you."

CWA said in its press release that the evidence of anti-union practices at the Apple store in Atlanta "affirms that mandatory meetings to discourage union memberships are considered a direct violation of the National Labor Relations Act, which could help set a precedent for future infringements on workers' rights."

The Atlanta Apple Store in Cumberland Mall became the first Apple retail location to file for a union election in April. The employees in Atlanta eventually withdrew their call for a union vote days before the election, alleging intimidation from Apple. 

Apple's Penn Square store in Oklahoma City and its store in Townson, Maryland have both voted to unionize. The CWA has also filed unfair labor reports related to the Oklahoma City store against Apple that it's waiting to hear back about from the NLRB.

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