US officials said Apple’s anti-union tactics in Atlanta were illegal

Prosecutors at the U.S. Labor Council determined that Apple violated federal law by questioning and coercing employees in Atlanta, the latest legal response about the company’s response to the regulation effort.

The regional director for the National Labor Relations Board in Atlanta also concluded that Apple held mandatory anti-union meetings during which management made coercive statements and would issue a complaint if the company did not settle, the agency’s press secretary, Kayla Bladeau, said Monday.

Apple, based in Cupertino, California, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Communications Workers of America petitioned to unionize an election for its Atlanta store this year, but in May withdrew its petition the week before the planned vote, citing alleged misconduct by the company.

“Apple executives believe the rules do not apply to them,” the group said in a statement on Monday. “Holding an illegal forced captive audience meeting is not only union busting, but an example of psychological warfare. We commend the NLRB for recognizing captive audience meetings for exactly what they are: a direct violation of workers’ rights.”

Apple, the world’s most valuable company, faced an unprecedented wave of regulation at its retail stores this year. The staff at a Maryland location voted in June to join the AFL International. Many of the Machinists and their Oklahoma City counterparts opted in October to join the CWA.

Regulators suffered a setback last month in St. Louis, where IAM withdrew a union petition a week after it was submitted, blaming the company’s conduct. Some employees at the site later complained about the process, saying they felt the electoral effort was rushed. But workers at dozens of the 270 US Apple Stores have been debating the issue of unionizing, according to employees.

A regional director at the NLRB in New York issued a complaint against Apple in September, accusing the company of questioning employees at a World Trade Center store and discriminating against union supporters in enforcing its no-solicitation policy. Apple said it did not agree with the allegations.

Whereas the NLRB had previously considered that companies could require employees to attend anti-union meetings, the agency’s current general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, considers “captive public” gatherings coercive and illegal in nature. Her office is pursuing cases that could set precedent, including at Amazon.com and Starbucks, both of which deny wrongdoing.

Complaints by the NLRB’s regional directors are heard by the agency’s judges, and their rulings can be appealed to board members in Washington, and from there they can go to federal court. The agency can seek damages, such as posting notices and rescinding policies or penalties, but it does not have the authority to impose punitive damages on companies.

Bloomberg staff writer Mark Gorman contributed to this report.

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