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Reports: First Apple Store Successfully Unionizes; Starbucks Allegedly Closes Unionized Store in Retaliation

It’s a good news-bad news situation for retail unionization efforts. Apple reportedly experienced its first successful union vote, at a store in Towson, Md., according to The Washington Post. However, Starbucks reportedly closed an Ithaca, N.Y. store in retaliation for its voting to unionize, according to NPR.

Associates at the Towson store voted 65 to 33 to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) once their contract is ratified. The workers and IAM had previously contacted Apple CEO Tim Cook to inform him of their intent to organize as the Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, or AppleCore. The location was the third Apple store to launch a union drive, but the first to hold a successful vote.

Towson organizers said they learned about the obstacles they would face from the organizers of a cancelled Atlanta Apple unionization vote. Organizers claim that they faced pushback from the retailer and lost some of the union’s supporters to a corporate campaign aimed at persuading workers to not unionize, but information from the Atlanta organizers helped the effort succeed regardless.

Towson workers are hoping to use the union to negotiate scheduling, pay, coronavirus safety measures and other concerns with Apple. Some workers also said that the retailer has been too slow to increase pay and that the corporate office should cede more control over scheduling to individual stores.

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Organization efforts are still ongoing at a New York store and the Atlanta location, which has said it would “continue this fight” in a message to workers seen by The Washington Post. Apple declined to comment specifically on the latest vote and referred back to a previous comment on unionization.

“We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple,” said Apple spokesperson Josh Lipton in a statement made before the vote. “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.”

Reason for Starbucks Store Closure Questioned by Union

Starbucks officially closed one of the three unionized Ithaca stores due to a faulty grease trap, which had caused the union to go on a one-day strike in April 2022 over unsafe working conditions. The union had cited “a waste emergency caused by the overflowing grease trap” as the reason for the strike. The union is claiming the store closure, which occurred June 10 after one week’s notice, is retaliation for the unionization vote.

A Starbucks union committee is reportedly filing an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, according to NPR. The organization is alleging that Starbucks closed the store to retaliate against worker activities that are protected by labor laws, and also alleges that Starbucks acted in violation of its legal obligation to bargain with the union over store closures. However, Starbucks disagreed with the assessment.

“We open and close stores as a regular part of our operations,” said a Starbucks spokesperson in a statement sent to NPR. “Our local, regional, and national leaders have been working with humility, deep care and urgency to create the kind of store environment that partners and customers expect of Starbucks.”

The closure of one store may have a negligible effect on the wider unionization of Starbucks locations. More than  100 stores have unionized, and Workers United has created a $1 million strike fund. Other retailers are facing unionization waves as well, including Amazon as well as a Trader Joe’s store that filed to hold an election.

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