Less than a week before its scheduled date, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) have decided to withdraw a formal vote on unionization for Apple Store employees at Atlanta’s Cumberland Mall location. As first reported by Bloomberg, the union — which has recently invested heavily in organizing tech workers — opted to hold back as a result of what it called “Apple’s repeated violations of the National Labor Relations Act.”
The withdrawal follows weeks of escalating tensions between Apple and its retail staff. Shortly after Cumberland had gone public with its intentions it was reported Apple had retained Littler Mendelson, the same law firm Starbucks — which is undergoing a wave of store unionizations — has engaged. The firm’s website states: “we excel in union avoidance.” Shortly after, Apple corporate began circulating anti-union talking points to managers and Atlanta workers claim they were being force into so-called “captive audience meetings,” a hallmark of union-busting campaigns. Earlier this week, audio leaked of an Apple VP, Deirdre O’Brien, expressing why she believed a union was a poor fit for the company. That message was reportedly sent to all 65,000 of Apple’s retail staffers.
In a statement today, CWA stated that Apple’s actions “have made a free and fair election impossible.” The group also expressed concern that COVID cases among the store’s staff might further jeopardize their ability to vote in person.
One of the most significant reasons behind Cumberland staffers’ decision to organize has been simple economics. In talking with Engadget, one of the store’s workers, Elli Daniels, described stagnant wages that had failed to keep pace with either national inflation or local increases to cost of living. Notably, Apple has been one of the few companies to thrive under pandemic conditions, posting several consecutive record-breaking quarters.
Perhaps in an effort to stave off unrest among retail staff (Cumberland is only one of the stores currently exploring unionization) Apple has stated it will increase pay to a starting wage of $22 per hour. “We are pleased to offer very strong compensation and benefits for full-time and part-time employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, annual stock grants and many other benefits,” Apple told press today in a statement. (The pay increase, incidentally, was reported several hours after the aforementioned union-avoidance audio leaked to press.)
While an immediate setback, the withdrawal does not preclude CWA from attempting another union election — though it will have to wait at least six months to refile.
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Confessions of an in-house creative strategist on feeling unfulfilled, difficulty in returning to agencies as the ‘pay is less’
The war for talent between agencies and brands’ in-house agencies has cooled. Even so, for adland talent who’ve made the move in-house, some say they are looking to go back to agencies after feeling creatively stifled. It’s not the easiest strategy to execute.
In the latest edition of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor, we hear from an in-house creative strategist about their experience, why they want to go agency-side now and how pay is keeping them from doing so.
This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
What’s the in-house experience like?
I’ve been in-house for about a year. It’s very one-sided. The difference between agency and in-house is that with agencies, there [are] a lot of opinions and ideas [outside of the brand message] that go into creative. With in-house, you have the brand’s message and all creative is reflective of the brand’s message. With in-house, regardless of trends in the market, it’s a lot of ‘we’re going to stick to this one way of doing things’ mentality. It’s a lot of opinions about what the creative should be based on what it has been before. It makes it hard to introduce something fresh. It makes it hard to hire or be a new hire. If you’re not actually going to adhere to advice from new hires, what’s the point in getting new people? Are you just bringing people on board for a second opinion? That’s what it feels like.
Sounds like you don’t have the creative control you desire.
It feels like more of a second opinion role than to get something to manage or control. [Where I am now] it feels like we’re leaning more into what [our strategy] used to be than thinking about what we could be. That’s a big issue with in-house. With agencies, like I said, there’s a lot more trial and error. With in-house, a lot more of this is what we’re doing, these are the funds we have and this is what has worked in the past. In reality, a lot of what worked in the past, when you put it back into the market, it’s not going to work anymore.
Why do you think it’s more challenging to get to a new creative strategy in-house?
With agencies, you have multiple perspectives. You’re working on multiple brands. You can see something working for another brand and talk to your client about it. You can pivot. You have the background and perspective to [pitch that pivot]. When you’re in-house, you only have the knowledge of your brand and what’s working for you.
Are you looking to go back to agencies?
Personally, I am looking to go from in-house to agency but I get paid a lot more being in-house than what I’ve been offered at agencies. I’ve been in interviews with agencies where they’re telling me that I’ll be learning [programs I already know how to use] so that’s why the pay is less than what it should be. There are agencies I’ve interviewed with who ask me to move to New York for less than what I make now and make that work. [With inflation,] there’s no reason why salaries aren’t also increasing.
So you’d like to make the jump creatively but it’s hard when the compensation isn’t up to what in-house offers?
It’s hard. I’ve been lowballed, too. They’ll post a salary for a position, go through the interviews and then offer less than what’s listed on the salary description. What was the point of putting the salary range there? I feel like people are putting salary ranges on job descriptions just to attract people with the experience that they are looking for but by the time they make the offer, it’s not what they said it would be. It’s offensive.
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