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Apple Discriminated Against Pro-Union Staff, NLRB Alleges

(Bloomberg) -- The US National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against Apple Inc. accusing it of illegally interrogating and discriminating against employees at a New York City store, ratcheting up pressure on a company that’s increasingly become the target of labor organizers.

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In a filing, the agency accused Apple of “prohibiting the placement of union flyers on the break room table while permitting nonunion solicitations and distributions,” NLRB spokesperson Kayla Blado said in an email Tuesday. The complaint said the company discriminated against workers by only enforcing its “no solicitation” policy against staff who supported a union, according to the NLRB. The filing also said Apple interrogated employees about their workplace activism.

The complaint was spurred by an earlier filing from the Communications Workers of America, which said Apple was suppressing union organizing efforts. The group cited the alleged interrogations and restrictions on flyers and said Apple required employees to attend mandatory anti-union speeches. The conduct took place at the company’s World Trade Center store in Manhattan, a CWA representative said in May.

Apple disputed the allegations. “We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple,” the company said Tuesday in a statement. “We regularly communicate with our teams and always want to ensure everyone’s experience at Apple is the best it can be.”

Apple’s retail chain, which includes roughly 270 stories in the US, is facing unionization campaigns in multiple cities. CWA has said that it is in touch with Apple employees around the country, and staffers in Oklahoma City are slated to vote next week in an NLRB election on whether to become the first Apple retail workers to join the group.

“It is past time for Apple’s senior management to respect its retail employees and stop its unlawful attempts to prevent them from forming unions,” CWA’s secretary-treasurer, Sara Steffens, said in a statement Tuesday. “Apple has a choice -- does it want to be known for intimidating its workers and creating a culture of fear, or does it want to live up to its stated values and welcome true collaboration with all of its employees -- including retail workers.”

Employees in Maryland voted in June to join another union, the International Association of Machinists, marking one of the most prominent in a series of landmark labor wins over the past year at top US businesses. CWA also filed a still-pending NLRB claim against Apple in Atlanta, where in May the labor group withdrew a petition for a unionization vote, citing alleged union-busting by the company.

Complaints issued by labor board prosecutors are considered by administrative law judges, whose rulings can be appealed to NLRB members in Washington and from there to federal court. The agency can order companies to change policies that conflict with the law, but it lacks authority to issue punitive damages for violations.

(Updates with additional labor board comment in second paragraph.)

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