The tech giant is one of a handful of high-profile companies, such as Amazon and Starbucks, grappling with a wave of union organizing. Apple retail workers at stores in Towson, Md., and Oklahoma City became the first in the company’s history to unionize last year, as other campaigns have faced setbacks. Apple has held regular meetings at its stores to discuss the pitfalls of joining unions. But the Communications Workers of America, which has a national campaign to organize Apple workers, said the charges are the first the union has filed against Apple for unlawfully terminating retail workers for union activity.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Union organizers say companies often use attendance policies to weed out workers who are supportive of unions. Starbucks union organizers have also been reportedly fired over the past year for attendance issues, including arriving to work a few minutes late. Starbucks has previously said that workers are terminated after violating company policies and not in retaliation for engaging in union activity.
Gemma Wyatt, who worked at Apple in Kansas City for seven years and began organizing at her store last spring, was put on a disciplinary notice after arriving late for her shift by an average of one minute, three times in a month, she said. Apple fired her in early February after two more attendance-related issues.
“I had a long history with the company, and I loved my job,” Wyatt said. “They absolutely succeeded in crushing the will to organize at our store. People are, of course, interested in having a say in their working conditions, but not risking their livelihood.”
The fired Apple employees in Kansas City said they began organizing last year in response to part-timers not receiving the same benefits as full-time employees and other discrepancies in Apple’s treatment of its workers.
Throughout last year, the company held optional meetings to discuss unionization with workers. The meetings ramped up and eventually became mandatory sessions where managers told workers that unionizing would disrupt the relationship between the company and its employees, union members said.
Five union organizers in Kansas City were fired for attendance-related issues between November and February. The union said that, before these firings, it had been uncommon for anyone to be terminated for violating attendance policies at the store, leading the union to believe these workers had been singled out for union organizing.
Federal labor laws prohibit employers from retaliating against workers for union activity.
Sergio Hernandez Jr., a technical specialist at the Genius Bar and another leader of the union drive, was also fired in December for attendance issues. He said he became active in the union after noticing that only some workers at the store were getting paid a premium for speaking Spanish, while he was not.
The union also filed a charge against Apple on Monday for allegedly retaliating against workers organizing at the Memorial City store in Houston. The charge alleged that Apple interrogated workers at the store individually about their support for the union, promised improvements to their working conditions if they declined to support the union, and disciplined a worker in retaliation for supporting the union.