How pay equity issues are driving the historic union push at Apple

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Whenever Noah McCool explains to his colleagues at their Apple store in Nashville, Tennessee why they should form a union, he focuses on the money. He tells them how much the average Apple store has brought in per worker historically — in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, he says — and then notes that many of the store’s employee annual salaries hover around $46,000, an amount calculated from the company’s new salary. minimum wage.

“It’s a compelling case for the organization,” said McCool, 24, a store specialist. “People are immediately like, ‘You’re right. We should be paid more.

Talks like these are taking place at Apple stores across the United States, from New York to Kentucky, as a nationwide wave of pandemic-triggered organizing has come to one of the world’s most valuable companies.

This week, employees at an Apple store in Towson, Maryland, became the first in the company to vote to join the union of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The count began on June 15 and the result was made public on Saturday.

While many Apple employees recognize that the company offers above-average salaries for the typically low-paying retail industry and benefits such as health care and parental leave that set it apart from other competitors. , they always wonder if they are being paid fairly.

The company doesn’t publish its average wage for retail workers, but it recently announced that its minimum wage will increase to $22 an hour in July, which is roughly the average hourly wage for workers in the e-commerce retail, which was $20.85 in 2021, according to federal data.

A dozen employees, 10 current and two former, said in interviews for this article that compensation issues drive organizational efforts. These questions relate to fairness, transparency and whether the profits of what was recently the world’s top $3 trillion company were shared fairly with its frontline workers.

“We have just been through a pandemic that has incredibly and disproportionately affected poorer communities and minority communities. And in the same amount of time, America’s wealthiest individuals have added another trillion dollars to their wealth,” said Derrick Bowles, 37, an Apple employee in Atlanta who helps organize the Cumberland store. Mall.

“We could see ourselves returning to work having to wear masks and stand behind plexiglass while we talk to customers and all, while our vice presidents and CEOs were able to work safely from home.”

Historically, unions paved the way to the middle class for many Americans. But while unions have shrunk in numbers over the past half-century, academics see another phenomenon, tracing the sharp rise in income inequality back to their decline.

“Historical evidence suggests unions help reduce income inequality,” said Princeton economics professor Henry Farber, who was the lead author of a recent study that found that the growth of unions overnight of the Great Depression led to significant declines. in income inequality. “Evidence also suggests that unions raise the wages of less skilled workers, people at the bottom of the income distribution more than people at the top, so they have a natural equalizing effect.”

Unionization at Apple, which employs some 65,000 retail workers, is unlikely to make a large-scale dent there. But in a tech company with such a broad international profile, a union victory at Apple could ring particularly strong.

pay for it

Compensation at Apple has long been a hot topic, as the company has had the highest market value in the world for much of the past decade. During the pandemic, the company’s value increased further, as it became the first $3 trillion company at the end of 2021. That’s triple the figure from as recently as 2018. Its Revenue also soared, to $365 billion at the end of its 2021 fiscal year, from $274 billion the previous year, according to its financials.

An aerial view of Apple Park in Cupertino, California on October 28, 2021.Tayfun CoÅkun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images File

But while wages have risen steadily at Apple, they haven’t kept pace. His minimum wage — $46,000 a year on a full-time schedule — has risen 45% since 2018, according to company statements to media.

Some workers have started creating spreadsheets to anonymously share salaries with co-workers. But these efforts have sometimes caused friction.

Former software engineer Cher Scarlett quit in 2021 after creating such a survey for Apple employees. She said her spreadsheet had received more than 3,000 salary entries from colleagues and demonstrated evidence of gender pay gaps in some teams.

Scarlett currently has a pending complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in which she alleges the company crushed its efforts for pay transparency, for which workers have legal protection. Its complaint claims that company management “engaged in coercive and repressive activities that enabled abuses” of workers organizing around issues such as pay. It also says the company blocked her and a colleague from creating a public channel on Slack to discuss pay equity.

“What they were trying to do was stop us from organizing around any issue,” Scarlett said. “Salary is the biggest reflection of how people are treated in a workplace.”

Apple declined to comment on the allegations or Scarlett’s case, but said it has “achieved and maintained” gender pay equity for its employees globally since 2017.

“In the United States, we have also achieved pay equity with respect to race and ethnicity – as well as pay equity at the intersections of race and ethnicity with gender,” the company said. in a statement distributed by spokesperson Josh Lipton.

For its retail workers, another informal payroll spreadsheet has been circulating since April, after a former Apple Store manager in Brooklyn, New York, Sidney Lo, created one that went viral on LinkedIn.

Lo said he started the sheet because as a manager involved in hiring, he saw firsthand how the company’s compensation system created inequities, such as paying a new hire as much as a longtime employee.

“The structures have created a lot of inequality,” he said. “What I took away from my time at Apple doing payroll was that the fair market rate often didn’t match the changing environment as it should have. … You lose at because of inflation, cost of living increases, market changes, and the only way to find out is through pay transparency.

Another statement sent by Lipton said the company deeply appreciates its workers.

“We are pleased to offer very strong compensation and benefits for full-time and part-time employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, grants annual shares and many other benefits,” the statement said.

A larger slice

The Communications Workers of America, the union with which employees at Apple stores in Atlanta, Louisville, Nashville, New York and other cities organize, estimates that the company’s revenue per commerce employee of retail are between $545,000 and $610,000, based on a review of his financial situation. statements. Many workers talk about the statistic – and use it to argue that they deserve to earn more.

“For me, this salary issue is everywhere, like, it doesn’t seem to matter, how long have you had a job, regardless of your skills,” said Tiawana Dugger, 24, who earns about 26. $ per hour at the Towson Apple Store.

Employees working to unionize the Grand Central Station store in New York City have demanded a minimum wage of $30 an hour.

Tiawana Dugger, 24, who earns about $26 an hour at the Apple Store in Towson, Maryland.
Tiawana Dugger, 24, who earns about $26 an hour at the Apple Store in Towson, Maryland. Valerie Plesch for NBC News

Jay Hedgspeth, 20, a student and laborer who is campaigning at an Apple store in Louisville, Kentucky, says he struggles to pay his bills on the $20 an hour he currently earns in the business by working 20 to 30 hours a week.

Hedgspeth supplements his Apple earnings with earnings from streaming games on Twitch, where he said he spends about 10-15 hours a week, and from five or more extra hours a week he works at a production company. . Despite all this, he still struggles to meet his regular expenses, which are about $1,650 a month for tuition and housing, another $400 a month for his car and insurance, and other costs like food and recreation, he said.

The $2-an-hour minimum wage increase, which takes effect next month, will help cover the rising cost of gas, he said, but not much else.

He said a company like Apple should share more of its wealth.

“Especially compared to the vast majority of other companies, Apple is almost uniquely on the verge of actually being able to do something about it,” he said, citing the fact that the company has spent $85 billion on share buybacks last year, which turns out to be about $500,000 for each of the 154,000 people who work for Apple worldwide.

“We believe that asking for transparency on wage inequality and cost of living adjustments in real living wages is not such a crazy thing to ask for. two apples. There’s the corporate side in Cupertino, and then there’s Apple retail.

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