At a roundtable that Bowles attended in May, a moderator said they would answer “questions from the team,” despite not being aware that questions had been asked. “If we form a union, can we lose our benefits?” read an anonymous question to which the manager answered yes. The moderators then listed individual benefits, such as a generous mental health leave policy, and asked employees to raise their hands if they used it. “Then they would look at people and say, ‘That mental health benefit you’re taking advantage of, it could be gone.'” Bowles points out that employees would never vote for a contract that stripped them of cherished benefits. (Union contracts must be ratified by a majority of the members.)
The CWA union filed an unfair labor practice charge in response to Atlanta’s mandatory captive meetings, which the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel has called illegal. In Towson, Apple continued the practice but changed the meetings from mandatory to optional, which would technically comply with the law. Nevertheless, employees still felt obliged to participate. The meetings were automatically added to people’s schedules and they had to deselect them if they wanted to skip them.
At one point, Gallagher says, management seemed to turn its focus from unions in general to the IAM specifically. They tried to paint the union as racist, bringing up its history of excluding minorities when it was founded, “without any of the actual historical context of it being 1880s Georgia,” Gallagher notes. “Someone pointed out that the union is run by rich white men,” said Graham DeYoung, a 15-year Apple employee and organizing committee member at the Towson store. “I said, ‘Hey, look at the Apple board.'”
In Atlanta, leaders shared a letter written by an employee at the Grand Central Station store in New York City about the union drive there. At the time, Grand Central was affiliated with another union, Workers United. WIRED reviewed the letter, in which the employee claimed to support unions, but wrote: “I do not support THIS union … We are absolutely allowed to have different opinions, we don’t all have to want the same things, or even be friends — but the whispers, the pettiness , the DEATH THREATS and the downright ridiculous conspiracy theories and plans to take each other down must STOP!”
The idea that the organizers were issuing death threats “was an absurd thing at first,” Bowles says. “But then when it was posted in our store, it was very clear that the intent was to connect our organizing committee with that kind of thing.”
Employees at both stores say managers amplified the voices of anti-union employees. Gallagher says that when he called employee relations to complain about a colleague spreading false rumors about members of the organizing committee, he was told the employee was entitled to their opinion. In Atlanta, Rhodes says, a store manager told union supporters they could not discuss the union during work hours, but allowed anti-union staff to freely push their rhetoric.