New Crack in Apple’s Armor as Dozens Strike at Its Stores in Australia
He acknowledged that the number of striking workers was modest, but noted that of the three unions involved, the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union represents the largest number of Apple workers. The action will have symbolic resonance, he added, because it is “the biggest of its sort in Apple’s history in Australia.”
The union’s members have also voted in favor of striking for 24 hours if Apple tries to take the agreement to a vote without the union’s approval.
In Australia, the unionization of Apple workers has been a relatively recent development. When the company’s last agreement with employees was negotiated, in 2014, there was no union involvement. What has changed since then is the creation of a new union, the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union.
The retail sector in Australia has never been a labor stronghold, said Andrew Stewart, an employment law expert at the University of Adelaide, both because of the insecure, casual nature of the work force and because of the tactics of the union that has historically dominated the sector, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association. That union focused on being able to reach agreements with employers, sometimes at the cost of achieving the best outcomes for workers, according to critics.
The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union was founded in 2016 over discontentment with the larger union, positioning itself as a more activist and militant alternative. Because Australia aims to avoid having multiple unions in the same sectors, the new union was set up as an unregistered trade union. While it is still able to bargain on behalf of employees and organize strikes, it does not have the same extensive rights and obligations of registered trade unions.
The challenge for unions contending with multinational corporations is twofold, Professor Stewart said. On a local level in Australia, they have to buck a trend of declining union interest and membership. On a global level, they also need to “find methods of trying to work across borders to develop an effective collective voice,” he said.
Tripp Mickle contributed reporting from San Francisco.