Apple investors will audit its labor practices

Photo credit: DepositPhotos
Photo credit: DepositPhotos

Apple has agreed with a group of investors, which includes five pension funds from New York City, to look at how it treats its workers in the U.S.

In a filing with the SEC last week, Apple said that its official human rights policy is about “workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining in the United States.” The review will look at whether or not Apple is following this policy.

The audit is happening because federal regulators and workers say the company has repeatedly broken workers’ rights over the past year as they tried to form a union. Apple says the claims are false.

As part of its agreement with investors, which includes other pension funds for unionized workers, Apple agreed to hire a third-party company to do the assessment.

The letter also had ideas for the evaluation, like hiring a company that knows a lot about workers’ rights and doesn’t tell companies how to avoid unionization. It said the business should be “as independent as possible.”

Apple didn’t name a third party in its federal filing, and the company wouldn’t say anything more.

As of last week, members of the investor coalition owned stock worth more than $2 trillion, which was worth about $7 billion. Apple said about the assessment in a financial filing, but it didn’t give many details. Instead, it said it would do the assessment and write a report by the end of the year.

Two Apple stores in Townson, Maryland, and Oklahoma City, voted to join a union last year. Two other stores had workers sign petitions to hold union elections, but they later took them back.

Many of the workers at the company who were trying to start a union said they liked their jobs and their boss. Also, they mentioned benefits like health insurance, stock grants, and the satisfaction of working with Apple products. But they said they hoped joining a union would help them get better pay, more control over their schedules, and more chances to get jobs and promotions.

Apple said in May that the minimum starting hourly wage would go from $20 to $22. Some workers saw this as an attempt to stop them from joining a union.

Workers have also said that Apple broke labor laws in at least six stores. They say that the company illegally watched them, wouldn’t let them put union flyers in a break room, asked them about their union organizing, threatened them for organizing, and told them that joining a union wouldn’t help.

The Communications Workers of America union (CWAU), which represents Apple workers in Oklahoma City, has also filed a complaint against Apple, saying that it set up a fake company union at a store in Ohio. Management set up and runs this union to stop employees from joining a separate union.

Apple disagrees

The National Labor Relations Board has sent official complaints in two cases involving stores in Atlanta and New York.

Apple said it “strongly disagrees” with the claims brought before the labor board and is looking forward to defending itself. In addition, apple has said that regular, honest, open, and direct communication with team members is a key part of the company’s culture of collaboration.

The group of investors that pushed for the labor assessment says that Apple’s response to the union campaigns goes against its human rights policy. Apple’s human rights policy requires it to respect the International Labor Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

Mr. Lander, the comptroller of New York, said that the coalition first reached out to Apple’s board last spring to talk about how the company felt about the union organizing, but they have yet to get a good answer.

The coalition then filed a proposal in September asking Apple to hire an outside firm to check if the company was living up to its promises about labor rights. Mr. Lander says that the company replied at the end of last year and that the two sides worked out a deal in exchange for the coalition pulling its proposal.

Some of the same investors, like the New York pension funds, have filed a similar proposal at Starbucks, where workers have voted in favor of unionizing at more than 250 company-owned stores since late 2021. Starbucks, like Apple, has said it is committed to ILO standards like freedom of association and the right to participate in collective bargaining.

But Starbucks has always fought against its workers’ attempts to form a union and hasn’t tried to reach an agreement with the investors. Jonas Kron, the chief advocacy officer of Trillium Asset Management and one of the investors pushing proposals at both companies, said he expected the Starbucks shareholders to vote on the demands. But instead of saying anything, the company said nothing.

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A few dozen formal complaints have been made against Starbucks for breaking labor laws. These include getting back at workers who try to form a union and not giving unionized workers new benefits. Starbucks has said it hasn’t broken any labor laws.