Apple has hired Littler Mendelson, an employment law firm, to blunt the labor push. It also has furnished store managers with talking points, including that unionizing could result in fewer promotions and inflexible hours, which was reported earlier by Vice. And last week, its leaders urged employees not to unionize and said they would increase wages to $22 an hour from $20.
“I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship, an organization that does not have a deep understanding of Apple or our business,” Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s senior vice president of retail, said in a video sent to many of the company’s roughly 65,000 retail employees. The video was reported on earlier by The Verge.
Josh Rosenstock, an Apple spokesman, declined a request for interviews with Ms. O’Brien and Alex Burrus, the manager of the Cumberland Mall store, which is about 10 miles from downtown Atlanta. And employees who are on the fence or against the union push were reluctant to speak with The New York Times.
In a statement, Mr. Rosenstock said the company provided numerous benefits to retail employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement and family leave. “We deeply value everything they bring to Apple,” he said.
Apple has countered the union push even as online orders diminish the importance of its stores. About 6 percent of Apple’s sales come from its retail locations, roughly half the share before the pandemic, according to Loup Ventures, a firm that specializes in tech research.
Despite the stores’ waning financial importance, employees like Ms. Rhodes view them as Apple’s physical connection to the wider world. She started working at Apple because she loved its products. She bought her first iPhone at 16 with money she earned working at McDonald’s. She became obsessed with the company, tuning into hourslong product events to feed a growing interest in “the way they worked.”
In 2018, she impressed a store technician with her knowledge about the Apple Watch, leading a manager to encourage her to apply for a job in her hometown, Louisville, Ky. She later moved to Atlanta and transferred to the Cumberland Mall store, sandwiched between a Bath & Body Works and a Pandora jeweler.