updated 07:00 pm EDT, Thu May 19, 2011
Few details, membership yet available
A mass media mailing, a nearly-blank web page, Facebook and Twitter pages and a press release are all that is known of a group calling itself the Apple Retail Worker's Union, hoping to generate enthusiasm for the idea of unionizing Apple's retail workers, which number over 16,000 -- a substantial portion of Apple's overall workforce. On the tenth anniversary of the opening of the first retail store, the anonymous group says "our time has come," saying that they work for "one of the most demanding retail environments while suffering through unfair treatment and compensation."
Retail unions are fairly rare, and starting a new one is enormously difficult, though if there were sufficient interest the retail workers for Apple could be chartered as a union under the wing of one of the existing unions for retail employees, such as the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store union, which represents workers in the U.S. and Canada. The size of the Apple Retail Worker's Union is unknown, though the website domain is registered to an unknown person in San Francisco who claims to work at an Apple store in the Bay Area.
There have been rumors of Apple retail workers in the Pacific Northwest wanting to organize, and an alleged "collective meeting" of employees and managers at the Alderwood Mall store in Lynnwood, Washington -- but on the whole Apple retail employees are well-paid and say they are well-treated compared to most other retail jobs, though the anonymous organizer of the union told MacWorld via e-mail that the grievances he is focused on revolve around break schedules, training opportunities, the hiring and promotion process and other issues.
Apple is known to ask a lot from their retail employees, including long hours during holiday or special-announcement periods, extensive training and refresher training on a constantly-shifting product lineup, and detailed, in-depth technical knowledge of not only Apple's own hardware and software but also of various third-party programs. At present, the effort to unionize appears to be a small one, with only five followers on Twitter and 34 "likes" on Facebook.
Business Insider last year ranked Apple as the fourth-best tech company to work for, a ranking they formulated with the assistance of Glassdoor, a web site devoted to cataloging company stats, along with good and bad things said about various companies by their (anonymous) employees. The report, which came out last summer, listed complaints mostly centered around the idea that the company is too nice to customers, specifically relying too heavily on customer surveys to determine hiring and firing decisions, or penalizing workers for spending too much time on the phone with customers.
While the comments quoted from employees is generally very positive, a few complained about the long hours, difficulty of advancing and "stagnant" wages. Apple specialists at Apple Stores averge nearly $12 per hour (varies by region) and Apple Geniuses average around $18 per hour. Glassdoor itself ranked Apple one of the top 50 places to work overall (at 19th), but that includes non-retail positions such as software engineering and management jobs. The Human Rights Campaign, a lobbying and activist group representing mainly gay and transgender people, also ranked Apple as one of the more gay-friendly employers in the U.S.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs is consistently "approved of" by over 97 percent of employees, one of the highest such figures on record for a corporate CEO. As part of his former duties at Pixar and as a board member at Disney, he has had to deal with unions before. The Apple Retail Worker's Union group acknowledges on their Twitter feed that they "love working for Apple, but want it to be better."