An employee arranges Apple iPhones as customer shop at an Apple store.
Mike Segar | Reuters
Employees at an Apple store in Towson, Maryland voted Saturday to join a union, a significant achievement for organized labor. The Towson store is the first unionized Apple store in the U.S.
The vote is a defeat for Apple, which has opposed unionization efforts, and could energize workers at the company’s other retail locations to move forward with organizing.
The tally was 65 votes in favor and 33 opposed. Approximately 110 employees were eligible to vote to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Voting started on Wednesday and ran through Saturday evening.
“We did it Towson! We won our union vote! Thanks to all who worked so hard and all who supported!” Towson organizers tweeted.
The National Labor Relations Board still needs to certify the votes. That could take around a week. Apple is required to bargain with the union over working conditions after the vote is certified, according to the NLRB.
The Towson store isn’t one of Apple’s so-called “flagship” stores in high-traffic areas in big cities. It’s a smaller location inside a mall.
The store received attention from Apple management as soon as workers announced plans to unionize. Apple’s head of retail and HR, Deirdre O’Brien, visited the location in May. A recorded message from O’Brien distributed to employees after union drives went public discouraged retail workers from joining unions, saying that doing so would make it harder for Apple to respond to employee concerns. She said unions are not committed to the company’s employees.
Workers are seeking more input over pay and working conditions, like how the stores handle Covid safety and other operations.
“To be clear, the decision to form a union is about us as workers gaining access to rights that we do not currently have,” Towson organizers wrote in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook.
The Towson store is one of several Apple locations that have publicly announced union drives and other retail organizers at other locations are watching its results closely. Two high-traffic, high-volume stores in New York, the Grand Central Terminal and World Trade Center locations, have signaled that they are unionizing, but have yet to advance to the stage of having an official vote.
One store in Atlanta, Georgia was scheduled to have an election earlier this month that was delayed indefinitely after the union, Communication Workers of America, alleged that Apple intimidated its employees. Stores in Louisville, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee are also in the process of organizing, according to NBC News.
The Apple retail union at the Towson store is unlikely to jeopardize Apple’s core business model of selling devices and services. Although Apple stores are a key channel for selling products, Apple also sells through its website and retail partners like carriers. Apple’s hourly workforce is smaller than other companies currently facing waves of union drives, like Amazon and Starbucks.
Apple is one of the most profitable companies in the world. It reported over $365 billion in global sales in 2021, and says its retail employees in the U.S. make at least $22 per hour.