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Apple Store Employees Chide Union in Rare Display of Pushback

(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc. retail employees pushed back on unionization efforts at a location in St. Louis, with staffers saying they don’t want to be represented by the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, a labor group that recently attempted to organize the store.

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According to a petition that workers are filing with the National Labor Relations Board, 66 of the store’s 90 employees -- nearly three-quarters -- have rejected the IAM, saying they “do not want to join the union and do not support the union in any manner.” The group of employees said they started collecting signatures opposing the union on Nov. 22. At the time, the IAM had been working to unionize the St. Louis Galleria store, but dropped its bid for a vote the following day.

When it canceled plans to push for a union election, the IAM blamed “anti-union practices and increased hostility toward workers.” But in a statement Monday, employees said the group “preemptively” scrapped the effort after learning of the petition against the union.

“The reality is much simpler: The majority of employees at this Apple Store do not wish to work with the IAM,” the employees said in Monday’s statement. “The majority of workers at the St. Louis Galleria Apple Store do not believe a union is required at this time, nor do they wish to work with the IAM in the future.”

The labor movement has made inroads at Apple this year, with stores agreeing to unionize in Oklahoma City and Towson, Maryland. But it’s also faced setbacks. And the St. Louis experience -- with a rare public rebuke of the union by employees -- underscores the challenges of winning over workers at the world’s most valuable company.

According to the petition set to be filed with the NLRB, the majority of store employees oppose union representation and said that any of previously signed union cards are “null and void.”

An Apple spokesman declined to comment. The IAM said there had been a “sufficient showing of interest” to file for a union election in St. Louis and that an Apple retail employee reported “management intimidation” during the campaign, leading the group to file an unfair labor practice complaint.

“All working people have the right to pursue their own destiny -- whether they would like union representation or not,” the group said.

According to the employees’ statement, workers said they didn’t feel “the union would provide anything complementary to Apple’s culture and existing benefits” and that some felt misled after initially giving support to the group, according to the statement. The union’s organizers at the store said the IAM ignored requests to delay the vote and rushed the process.

The signers of the petition claim they opposed the union “without intimidation from management.” Some retail employees at other stores have complained of heavy-handed tactics by Apple, saying that managers held meetings decrying labor efforts. Apple also recently withheld some new benefits from its unionized stores, a move that drew criticism from organizers.

Despite the latest setback, employees at several of Apple’s about 270 locations continue to consider unionizing, according to workers.

(Updated with response from Machinists union in seventh paragraph.)

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