NLRB: Apple violated law with anti-union meetings at Cumberland store

Complaint filed earlier this year over meetings held at metro Atlanta mall

A National Labor Relations Board official has found Apple violated federal labor law with “captive audience” meetings and other tactics to combat union organizing at its Cumberland Mall store in Cobb County.

The Communications Workers of America union filed a complaint with the NLRB in May. The union alleged that Apple Cumberland Mall conducted the mandatory meetings with employees after workers filed for a unionization election.

“Holding an illegal forced captive audience meeting is not only union-busting, but an example of psychological warfare, " said Tom Smith, CWA Organizing Director, in a written statement. “We commend the NLRB for recognizing captive audience meetings for exactly what they are: a direct violation of labor rights.”

NLRB Atlanta regional director Lisa Henderson found merit to the union’s allegations on the captive audience meetings, as well as allegations on coercive statements and interrogation, according to the NLRB.

As a result, if Apple does not reach a proposed settlement “the Regional Director will issue a complaint, which will result in a hearing with an NLRB Administrative Law Judge.” A judge could order remedies, and there is an appeals process.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

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The U.S. has seen a surge in union organizing efforts this year, with Apple, Starbucks and Amazon hourly workers being among the high-profile targets of labor activists.

Employees at the Apple store at Cumberland in May withdrew their application for a union vote after accusing the company of violating labor law, and Apple denied the charges.

The finding in the Apple case comes after a shift in philosophy at the NLRB earlier this year on so-called captive audience meetings. The NLRB’s general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo in April issued a memorandum announcing that “mandatory meetings in which employees are forced to listen to employer speech concerning the exercise of their statutory labor rights, including captive audience meetings” are a violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

She noted that the board’s case precedent has “tolerated such meetings,” but she said she believes that employers being permitted to coerce employees is “based on a fundamental misunderstanding of employers’ speech rights.”