Apple Store workers in Atlanta are forming a union 'because we love this company'

The tech giant's retail workers are struggling against the rising cost of living.

Carlo Allegri / reuters

When Elli Daniels started working at the Apple Store in Cumberland Mall location in Atlanta, her hourly wage was $16.50 — rosy by comparison to the federal minimum Georgia adopts, but below average for sales in her metro region. Three years later and in spite of several raises, her pay has nowhere near kept up pace with national inflation, or Apple's soaring profits for that matter.

She's one of the 100 eligible workers at the Apple Store location that petitioned the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday, with the backing of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), to hold a union election. It will be the first such election for an Apple retail location in the US.

"One of the biggest things that we're fighting for is going to be for fair pay and a livable wage, because with Atlanta being such a huge city, it's just getting more and more expensive to live here," Daniels told Engadget. "Everybody deserves the opportunity to be able to not worry about whether they can afford food or pay their bills. Everybody deserves to be able to afford to live in the city that they work in."

Daniels, a product zone specialist, was clear however, that her and her coworkers' desire for better pay isn't borne out of grievance. By all indications a sincere devotee of Apple's products, she specified that "we want to do this because we love this company, not because we want to turn our back on them."

Similarly to the Google Fiber retail workers who recently unionized in Kansas City, Missouri, Apple has been completely silent on the issues, according to Daniels. "We haven't heard anything from Apple corporate at all." Consequently, the workers and CWA opted to file for both voluntary recognition and a union election simultaneously. Apple's silence seems to indicate the company intends to let things go to a vote, though we've reached out to them for confirmation.

Over the pandemic years, Apple has raked in tremendous profits, even as the economy at large suffers. It has posted record-breaking quarters over and over, but the winnings aren't being distributed equally, according to Daniels. Raising wages is an obvious way to relieve material hardship for Apple Store workers, some of whom have "had to leave the company because they just needed more money to be able to pay their bills, because they were growing a family." But it's also a philosophical means to "try to close the gap" between corporate and retail employees. "It's really important that both sides of the coin get fair treatment in the company that we all work for," she said.

Cumberland workers aren't alone, either. Apple Store workers in New York City's Grand Central terminal, backed by the Fruit Stand Workers United, recently called for a minimum wage of $30 per hour. They're also riding a wave of newfound union sentiment displayed by the first successful unionization vote at a US Amazon warehouse, as well as a rash of successful union drives across Starbucks locations nationwide. As yet, Apple has not seemingly deployed the same captive audience meetings and union-busting techniques those companies have become increasingly associated with.

"We love Apple no matter what," Daniels stressed, "I think it's all just making sure that we all can put our heads together and really make Cumberland the best place that it can be for all of us — both for us that are here now, as well as people that are that are here in the future."