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Amid iPad frenzy, Apple staff say 'Remember the workers'

Unionization of Apple retail making slow progress

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The world + dog has been following the announcements from Apple today, but for one employee watching the preparations, the chief wish wasn't a shiny new fondleslab or fancy TV system, but union rights.

Cory Moll, an organizer for the Apple Retail Workers Union (ARWU), popped by the event before clocking in for work at his local Apple store. His goal is to see Apple workers unionize and work towards improving their lot, as staff have in other countries. He and the ARWU, however, face an uphill task.

"It's a very slow process, especially in the US where workers are content with what they've got rather than trying for more," he told The Register. "But it's also a Catch-22 situation – a fair few staff are keen to organize, but are hesitant to do it themselves. That said, it's only a matter of time before organizing starts."

There have been some successes in getting employees of Apple's retail arm to take up collective bargaining. In Munich, staff have formed a worker's council – or betriebsrat – that negotiates with store owners over local working conditions. The worker's council system is traditional in Germany, and legal across the EU, and doesn't require staff to be members of a union to take part. So far, however, there's been very little movement across the rest of the continent.

So far, Moll has had some expressions of support from domestic US unions, but no more than that. He's hoping the ARWU will not need big-labor backing, saying he would prefer that a dedicated union would evolve directly and be run by staff for their benefit.

El Reg has its doubts. The US is not a union-friendly nation for the most part, and managers of many companies are actively trained to quash any signs of unionization – and Moll has cajones the size of watermelons to take such a public position. That said, as the great author John Steinbeck noted, "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires."

Moll is also not the only one concerned with worker's rights. Watchdog group SumOfUs.org has launched a petition to coincide with the new iPad launch, asking that Apple guarantee that none of their shiny new fondleslabs will be made by staff who are working excessive overtime. So far nearly 5,000 have signed up.

"As Apple customers, we have a right to know whether the new iPad was manufactured illegally and unethically," said SumOfUs executive director Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman. "We hope as much as anyone that Apple has nothing to hide. If Apple releases genuine, original records that demonstrate that there has been no illegal overtime at iPad factories in the lead-up to the new product launch, then we will be the first to celebrate. But until Apple proves otherwise, we can only assume that they are bluffing about caring about workers' health and safety - and we're calling that bluff." ®

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