NLRB Accuses Apple of Illegally Restricting Employees’ Rights
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has accused Apple of imposing policies on employees that are illegal and violate workers’ rights to engage in collective action.
Bloomberg reports that Apple, the most valuable company in the world, has had its reputation tarnished after NLRB prosecutors ruled that statements made by executives and rules imposed on employees are unlawful and infringe on their right to organize a union. According to the NLRB General Counsel’s office, the tech giant’s policies on work procedures, employee handbooks, and confidentiality “tend to interfere with, restrain or coerce employees” from exercising their legal rights.
The investigations into Apple’s practices are the result of lawsuits filed in 2021 by former employees Cher Scarlett and Ashley Gjovik. Scarlett claimed that according to Apple’s work policies, employees are not allowed to discuss their pay, working conditions, or other employment-related issues. In his writings, Gjovik claimed that policies in Apple’s employee handbook and an email from CEO Tim Cook promising to punish leakers broke the law.
In September 2021, Cook stated in an email to the entire staff that “people who leak confidential information do not belong here.” Cook wrote that Apple was “doing everything in our power to identify those who leaked” and that it would not “tolerate disclosures of confidential information, whether it’s product IP or the details of a confidential meeting.” The email was sent in response to media reports about an internal meeting held by the company where management addressed issues like pay equity and the Texas anti-abortion law.
The NLRB’s decision is a significant setback for Apple, which has recently dealt with an unusual wave of public dissent among its white-collar staff as well as historically large-scale organizing campaigns by retail workers. Assertions that Apple unlawfully coerced workers at its retail stores in Atlanta and New York City, where some employees were attempting to unionize, have also been supported by NLRB prosecutors in recent months. The company has refused any wrongdoing.
Jason Stanevich, an attorney for Apple, responded to the NLRB’s finding by saying that, “Apple fosters an open and inclusive work environment whereby employees are not just permitted, but encouraged, to share their feelings and thoughts on a range of issues, from social justice topics to pay equity to anything else that they feel is an important cause to promote in the workplace.” The NLRB’s conclusion clearly suggests otherwise, and U.S. labor law safeguards employees’ rights to interact with one another and take collective action regarding work-related issues.
Apple fired Gjovik, a senior engineering program manager, in September 2021 after she complained to numerous local, state, and federal agencies. In documents obtained by Gjovik, Apple claimed that she was fired for breaking rules like disclosing proprietary product information. Gjovik has claimed that the law protected her disclosures and that her termination was motivated by her earlier complaints, in which she claimed that after expressing concerns about workplace health hazards, she was subjected to harassment, humiliation, and a request not to discuss her worries with coworkers.
“My hope is that for the first time Apple is told by the government that this culture of secrecy is not OK,” Gjovik said. “I also hope that this sends shockwaves through other corporations that even Apple can be held accountable.”