Apple retail still has a diversity problem, union says
The higher you climb up the corporate ladder at Apple, the whiter it gets. That’s according to data analyzed by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the union that’s helping retail workers at Apple stores organize.
As some Apple retail workers fight for union recognition and a seat at the bargaining table, the CWA is using Apple’s own data to show how the company falls short in its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts.
Despite Apple’s efforts to cultivate a more racially diverse workforce, management positions still skew white, the data shows. Even though Apple succeeded at hiring more people of color, the data indicates the company disproportionately promoted its white workers.
People of color at Apple are far more likely to be working low-level jobs. According to Apple’s own data collected between 2014 and 2021, the number of Black and Hispanic workers has increased by 70.1% and 93.1%, respectively. But for Black workers, 85.6% of those jobs have been in lower-paid sales or admin support roles; for Hipsanic people, that’s 60.8%.
Meanwhile, the number of white people in sales roles decreased by 24.9%, and the number of white people in the “first/mid officials & managers” and “professionals” job categories grew by 187.2% over the seven-year span.
The CWA’s report also found that Apple failed to post year-over-year increases in Black and Hispanic representation in the most advanced job classification, “executive/[senior] officials & managers.” Per Apple’s most recent employer information report (EEO-1), there are 126 employees in the highest job category. From this group of the highest paid employees, 77.7% are white. Only eight out of 126 senior managers are women of color.
Apple says that it does not use these government-mandated reports to measure its progress.
These findings don’t come as a surprise to Sidney Lo, who worked at Apple retail locations in New York City for almost 12 years, climbing up the ranks of store management. When he left Apple, he posted his salary on LinkedIn as a gesture of pay transparency. Following in his footsteps, more than 700 Apple retail employees shared their salaries anonymously, including their gender and race.
"There's always two sides of Apple: Apple as a corporate entity and Apple as a retail entity,” Lo told TechCrunch. “I think from a decision perspective, some of these [DEI] decisions get lost in transition from corporate down to retail, and retail down to employees."
Some Apple workers think that a possible explanation for the lack of diversity in leadership is that it’s unclear how to get a promotion, or what metrics are weighed most heavily when considering raises. One current retail employee told the CWA that the path to career advancement feels “arbitrary,” saying it’s "like playing Wordle," except once you guess the word, the solution changes.
“Apple likes to go by these guidelines of some random form of metrics that we don’t even know about…they don’t go by your monthly metrics, weekly metrics,” another retail employee told the CWA.
A leader of the #AppleToo labor movement, former Apple software engineer Cher Scarlett, found similar trends among corporate Apple employees. In an internal survey Scarlett conducted in 2021 with nearly 3,000 respondents, she found that white men have far greater opportunity to advance in the company.
“It’s very striking, not only that women and people of color tend to be in these lower positions, but also, instead of being in hardware, AI, ML or software engineering, they’re more likely to be in service or retail,” Scarlett told TechCrunch.
Scarlett also noticed in this internal survey that even when men and women worked in similar jobs for similar lengths of time, men generally had higher salaries than their female colleagues.
“The white men are making more than everybody else because they are getting the advancement,” Scarlett said.
Apple has a history of shutting down employee-run surveys about pay equity. Though Lo began compiling his data after leaving the company, Scarlett found that Apple was increasingly hostile toward her while she conducted her internal research. She ended up leaving the company after receiving a settlement and withdrawing a complaint she submitted to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Around the same time that Scarlett left Apple, Janneke Parrish, another #AppleToo organizer, was fired for “non-compliance.” The former Apple Maps program manager was let go for deleting personal files from her phone and computer before turning them over to Apple for investigation. She told The New York Times that she felt she was experiencing retaliation for her organizing.
The same trends hold true at the retail level. The CWA alleged that Apple retaliated against five union organizers in Kansas City, who were fired for attendance-related issues. The workers said that they felt they were being singled out, since firings of this kind had been historically uncommon at the store.
Like many other companies, the coronavirus pandemic brought underlying problems at Apple to the forefront, spurring conversations among employees about union organizing.
"I think what was really challenging was seeing how successful the company was during such a hard time, and we weren't getting additional pay,” Lo told TechCrunch. “We were just being asked to continue to do more, like your job would expand into different elements of health and safety. I was basically a nurse, as a manager."
For the first time in the company’s U.S. history, two retail locations in Towson, Maryland, and Oklahoma City voted to unionize in 2022, despite Apple’s efforts to dissuade its staff. Before the union vote in Towson, the trillion-dollar company’s vice president of People and Retail Deirdre O’Brien sent a video to 58,000 retail staff warning them about the drawbacks of unionizing.
Apple retains the same anti-union law firm, Littler Mendelson, that represents companies like Amazon and Starbucks. The NLRB found merit to complaints that all three of these companies have violated labor laws that protect employees’ right to organize. At Apple specifically, the NLRB found that the company illegally interfered with labor organizing at stores in New York City and Atlanta.
In conjunction with the release of its report today, the CWA is calling on Apple to stop working with Littler Mendelson and adopt a policy of union neutrality. Microsoft recently adopted a similar policy, which states that it won’t interfere with employees’ right to organize. This policy helped 300 workers at ZeniMax, a gaming division within Microsoft, to earn voluntary recognition for their union.
When reached prior to publication, a spokesperson for Apple did not provide comment by press time.