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Watchdog: There just may be something in these claims Apple broke labor laws

You're holding staff meetings wrong?

The United States' National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) - the federal agency that protects workers' right to organize - has "found merit" in allegations that Apple's rules, handbook, confidentiality policy, and executives, are on the wrong side of labor laws. 

According to NLRB spokesperson Kayla Blado, there's merit to allegations in five NLRB cases that were filed in 2021 because Apple's behavior tended "to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their right to protected concerted activit1y," a violation of section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act.

Exactly how Apple has to hamper workers' ability to organize isn't directly specified as NLRB case files released to the public are highly redacted. However the organization has made it clear that it is considering possible 8(a)(1) violations in each case; specifically provisions on coercive rules, coercive statements and coercive actions. 

Finding merit isn't a determination of guilt. Instead it means the NLRB's investigations have found enough evidence to justify the accusations.

Apple has therefore not been formally called to account for any actions, but by telling the iGiant the complaints have merit the NLRB has indicated its belief the claims are substantiated. The onus is therefore on Cupertino to settle with the people making the allegations, lest the case end up in court.

Blado explained to The Register that if Apple and its accusers don't settle, the regional NLRB director will issue a formal complaint, at which point the matter would be brought before an administrative law judge. That judge has the power to make a decision awarding relief, or not.

If that decision is appealed it would go to the NLRB itself. If one of the parties still isn't satisfied, the issue could then wind up in federal appeals court, Blado told us.

Tim doesn't like leakers

The meritorious allegations stem from a pair of investigations from 2021 involving two Apple employees; one alleged she was harassed and ultimately fired for blowing the whistle on unsafe work conditions, while another alleged Apple unjustly interfered in discussions of pay among employees. 

Ashley Gjovik, who filed the claims relating to unsafe work conditions, has documented her case against Apple extensively and has been vocal on Twitter about the progress of her challenge to the Mac-maker's workplace practices. 

Gjovik's case stems from her work at an Apple office in Sunnyvale, California, that had been built on an apparently contaminated site, exposure to which caused her adverse health effects. Gjovik claims that Apple fought her efforts to address safety concerns, and then to report the site to the NLRB and the Environmental Protection Agency, ultimately resulting in her being placed on leave and fired.

In October of last year, Gjovik filed a new claim with the NLRB related to an all-staff email sent by Apple CEO Tim Cook to employees in September in which he said "people who leak confidential information do not belong here". That missive stated Apple was doing everything in its power to determine who had leaked such information. 

Gjovik said Apple's justification for her firing that same month was related to her violating disclosure policies of the kind Cook complained about, though she maintains the firing was related to her reporting of the contamination issues to the US government.

Like Steve Jobs, Cook has a record of going after Apple leakers with retaliation. In 2018, an email from Cook to employees was leaked, of course, and its contents indicated Apple was more than willing to prosecute those that it believed had wronged it. 

"In 2017, Apple caught 29 leakers. 12 of those were arrested," Cook said in the email. "These people not only lose their jobs, they can face extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere," the letter stated.

On Twitter, Gjovik said she was annoyed that it had taken more than a year to get action from the US government on the all-staff email sent by Cook, but that she's happy action is finally being taken. 

"My hope is that for the first time Apple is told by the government that this culture of secrecy is not OK. I also hope that this sends shockwaves through other corporations that even Apple can be held accountable," Gjovik told Bloomberg yesterday.

Apple didn't respond to requests for comment. ®

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