Apple may not be negotiating its contract with unionized employees in Towson in good faith, a union representative said.
Jay Wadleigh, who is leading contract negotiations on behalf of the International Association of Machinists union, said contract talks with Apple have been “very, very slow.”
The Towson store became the first in the nation to organize, with workers voting to form a union in June last year. Wadleigh said the union was prepared to begin bargaining in November, but agreed with the company to postpone until January to get through the holiday season.
In exchange, the company promised regular, pre-scheduled bargaining sessions. The union’s bargaining committee and Apple company representatives have been meeting for two-day bargaining sessions each month since January at a hotel in Baltimore, Wadleigh said.
“First contracts are tough. But we went six full sessions and only had two tentative agreements, or two issues resolved,” Wadleigh said.
Then, earlier this month, the process soured. Wadleigh said Apple shared some “cherry-picked” contract proposals with Apple Store employees across the country, a move that upset the committee.
“It kind of felt like a slap in the face,” said Kevin Gallagher, one of the Towson Apple Store employees who organized the union and is now on the negotiating team.
Apple had initially said, during bargaining, that the parties should keep the negotiation “closed,” and not record or too widely publicize the sessions.
After Apple shared the proposals in its stores to create a “negative portrayal” of them, Gallagher said, the union decided to share its perspective online.
“Our only recourse was, OK, we’ve got to go full transparent, open bargaining now. Whether they like it or not,” he said.
In a Twitter thread earlier this week, the union said Apple had rejected proposals from the bargaining committee, including the establishment of a grievance protocol, scheduling procedures and a seniority system.
The union also said the bargaining committee and Apple have reached agreements on topics including how to address errors in pay, non-discrimination policies and creating a health and safety committee to “meet regularly to identify hazards, review policies, and address concerns.”
Gallagher, an 8-year Apple store employee, , said the company’s move to share the proposals in the stores did not feel like it was made in good faith. He agreed with Wadleigh that bargaining felt like it was moving slowly.
“It’s very possible that what they’re doing is a stalling tactic. But there are glimmers of hope,” Gallagher said.
One such glimmer, he said, was reaching the tentative agreement on establishing a health and safety committee. Gallagher said concerns about those issues are a big reason his store got together and organized. He said the negotiators reached a tentative agreement on that committee in the first bargaining session after the company shared information in all its retail stores, which was at the beginning of April.
“I think that COVID was also a really big thing that opened people’s eyes up. They saw the company’s unilateral ability to change working conditions, like mask requirements, COVID policies,” he said. “All these things that dramatically affected people’s lives. People wanted more control over the conditions of their workplace.”
Apple did not respond to a request for comment. The company and the union are expected to return to the bargaining table next week.
In an attempt to move negotiations forward, Wadleigh said the committee decided to share “economic issues” with Apple in a recent bargaining session — proposals covering things like pay and severance.
It is typical in collective bargaining negotiations for a union and a company to reach agreements on non-economic issues — like job safety, probationary periods and other working conditions — before tackling the economics. The non-economic topics are seen as easier.
“We figured we’d put it all out there,” Wadleigh said.