Apple’s secrecy violated workers’ rights, says NLRB

As employee unrest simmered at Apple in late 2021, Tim Cook, the company’s chief executive, sent an email reminding staff that the world’s most valuable company would do everything in its power to “identify those who fled”.

The email spoke about the tech giant’s strictly enforced culture of secrecy, which had frustrated a group of former and current employees who had gathered testimonies of verbal abuse, harassment and of discrimination at Apple. Two of those former employees complained about company policies to the National Labor Relations Board.

More than a year later, the labor board found merit in the claim that Apple and its top executives violated federal law with actions and policies that discourage employees from banding together to advance their interests.

A spokeswoman for the labor board said Tuesday that it has determined that Apple’s labor and privacy rules “interfere with, restrict or coerce employees” into class action. If the parties fail to settle the case, the board will file a formal complaint against Apple and hold a hearing.

An Apple spokeswoman did not immediately comment.

The labor board responded to five charges brought in late 2021 by two former Apple employees, Ashley Gjovik, an engineering program manager at Apple for six years, and Cher Scarlett, an engineer with the company’s security team. . (After using a pseudonym to protect her anonymity, Ms. Scarlett said, she legally changed her name in 2021.) Both women were involved in the early days of what would become the #AppleToo activist group, which began by collecting testimonies of abuse, harassment and retaliation within the company.

Activists for the #AppleToo initiative shared the belief that the company’s strict culture of secrecy discouraged workers from voicing concerns about workplace issues with each other, family or the media. As a result, they said, problematic managers went unchecked and the company’s business conduct was rarely questioned.

In their complaints to the labor board, the former employees accused Apple of trying to block the group from collecting employee salary data, including through harassment. They also said the company’s work rules prevent them from discussing wages, hours and working conditions.

Ms Scarlett also complained to the Labor Board about Mr Cook’s email to staff. Shortly after a town hall meeting, Mr Cook sent an email to staff warning that the company “does not tolerate the disclosure of confidential information, whether it is intellectual property for a product or details of a confidential meeting”. He said the people who leaked had “no place” at Apple.

During the labor board review, a regional office “found merit in a charge alleging that statements and conduct by Apple – including high-level executives – also violated the state law on labor relations,” a council spokeswoman said.

Apple has continued to face challenges from workers since then, including over its back-to-work policy and efforts by retail workers to unionize.


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