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Complaining about Apple retail conditions is like 'writing to Santa'

Apple Towson in Maryland. Credit: Apple

As Apple continues to fight against unionization in Apple Stores, staff reveal how they are being driven to seek union help in what used to be the best job in retail.

Apple truly changed the face of retail with the original Apple Stores in 2001,

"The center half of the store — literally half of the store — is devoted to solutions," said Steve Jobs in a promo video at the time. "Because people don't just want to buy personal computers any more, they want to know what they can do with them."

That focus on the customer rather than pushing products and upselling configurations is what made the Apple Store stand out. And it is now what staff are saying is gone.

Bloomberg interviewed a number of Towson Apple Store staff and was consistently told that the stores had become, as one said, just retail, "BS... it's just crafted in a prettier package."

"When I started with the company," said Kevin Gallagher from the Towson store that recently unionized despite great pressure from Apple, "it felt like the only number that they worried about was your customer service score. [Now] they're looking to milk every last cent out of every square foot."

"It kind of killed my spirit a little bit," Graham DeYoung, a 15-year employee at the Towson store, told the publication. "As a technician, my heart is to fix your shit. That's what I want to do. But what I'm encouraged to do is to say, 'Well, this is what your phone is worth for a trade-in.'"

The Towson store in Maryland reportedly used to have a "giant laminated photo of a tree" in the staff break room, where workers had to put a stick-on label every time they made a sale. The stickers had to include a device serial number so the claim could be checked.

"The tree pushed people to want to upsell," said the same store's Tyra Reeder. "You have to focus on your numbers being perfect."

Apple Towson ultimately unionized after Apple reportedly regularly asked for feedback and allegedly never responded to it. Ideas were "bubbled up" to management and forgotten.

"It's like writing a letter to Santa," said employee Eric Brown. "Pretty much just like an empty slot that leads to a fire pit."

Apple's anti-union measures

Apple is being investigated by the US National Labor Relations Board over allegations of union-busting at at New York store, and Towson staff told Bloomberg how they had seen the same thing.

Mandatory anti-union meetings were held, in which managers echoed senior vice president of retail and human resources Deirdre O'Brien's stance. She has previously said "I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship."

Apple Genius Derrick Bowles, who now advises pro-union Apple retail workers, says that managers said the same thing in more blunt ways. "If I have a problem with my wife," Bowles quoted one manager as saying, "I don't go talk to my mistress."

Reportedly, a Black manager cited union racism of the 19th century as a reason to not join. She is said to have touched her skin and said: "[unions] don't care about us."

"We remain committed, as always, to delivering the excellent Apple experience — for our customers, our team members, and the communities we serve," Apple told Bloomberg. "Our retail and online teams connect with customers to help them get the most out of their products and ensure they receive an unparalleled level of support."

"We're proud to offer our teams exceptional benefits and strong compensation," continued the company, "including new family support and education programs."

Apple recently raised its hourly pay from $20 to $22, following increased moves to unionize. The Towson Store's laminated tree was taken down after that store successfully unionized.

It's not only retail staff who have been complaining about working conditions at Apple, but ex-Apple software engineer Cher Scarlett told Bloomberg that there is a difference. While many software workers have left Apple to find better conditions, she says retail staff have "been experiencing these kinds of issues for a long time, and they want them to be addressed, and they want to stay."