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Apple retail workers in Maryland to begin voting in historic union election

Catherine Thorbecke, CNN Business

Apple workers at a retail outpost in Towson, Maryland, are set to begin voting on Wednesday in a union election, with the potential to form the first labor union in one of the tech giant’s US stores.

Voting will take place in person at a vacant store in the Towson Town Center, a mall near Baltimore that houses the Apple store where workers are seeking to unionize. Polls will be open during select times on Wednesday through Saturday, according to a notice of election posted by the National Labor Relations Board. The vote count is set to take place on Saturday evening.

Organizers are calling their union the Apple Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, or AppleCORE for short, and have garnered support from the larger International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers trade union.

The vote comes amid a broader union push inside Apple. Organizers seeking a union election at an Apple store in Atlanta later withdrew their petition in April. Meanwhile, some employees at the Apple store at New York’s Grand Central Terminal have begun collecting signatures to file a petition to unionize.

The Apple efforts are part of a wave of worker activism in the tech sector and beyond as the pandemic has put a new spotlight on labor rights and working conditions. Household names from Amazon to Starbucks have confronted organizing activity in various locations as employees seek to leverage a tight labor market to push for better working conditions and pay. Within the tech industry, there are also tensions over the large gap in compensation and perks for corporate employees compared to retail workers and contractors.

In an open letter addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook last month, the AppleCORE group nodded to the larger labor organizing movement and said the decision to form a union “is about us as workers gaining access to rights that we do not currently have.”

A worker-organizer who said he had been at the Towson store for seven years previously told the Washington Post that the unionization bid is about having a seat at the table. “More money is nice, but it’s really about agency,” the worker told the outlet. (AppleCORE did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment Wednesday.)

In a statement to CNN Business, Apple emphasized the compensation and benefits it offers retail workers.

“We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple,” the statement said. “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, annual stock grants and many other benefits.”

After reports emerged of various organizing pushes at Apple stores, the company said it would raise the minimum starting pay for hourly workers in the United States to $22 an hour — a 45% jump from 2018 levels — or higher based on the market.

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