America’s companies that like to portray a progressive image are taking off the gloves when it comes to union organizing efforts.
“After working for more than seven years at an Apple store in Kansas City, Mo., Gemma Wyatt ran into trouble.
Last year, she said, managers disciplined her for clocking in late a few times over the previous several weeks. Then, in February, Apple fired her after she missed a store meeting because she was sick but failed to notify managers soon enough, according to Ms. Wyatt.
She was at least the fifth Apple employee the store had fired since this fall, all of whom had been active in union organizing there. The terminations came after two other Apple stores voted to unionize.
‘It took us time to realize they weren’t firing us just because of time and attendance,’ said Ms. Wyatt, who is part of a charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board in March accusing Apple of unfair labor practices.
Apple said it had not disciplined or fired any workers in retaliation for union activity. “We strongly deny these claims and look forward to providing the full set of facts to the N.L.R.B.,” a spokeswoman said.
A pattern of similar worker accusations — and corporate denials — has arisen at Starbucks, Trader Joe’s and REI as retail workers have sought to form unions in the past two years.
Initially, the employers countered the organizing campaigns with criticism of unions and other means of dissuasion. At Starbucks, there were staffing and management changes at the local level, and top executives were dispatched. But workers say that in each case, after unionization efforts succeeded at one or two stores, the companies became more aggressive.
Some labor relations experts say the companies’ progressive public profiles may help explain why they chose to hold back at the outset.
‘You’re espousing these values but saying this other organization claiming the same values’ — the union — ‘isn’t good for your work force,’ said David Pryzbylski, a labor lawyer at Barnes & Thornburg who represents employers. ‘It puts you in a little bit of corner.'”
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