At a roundtable that Bowles attended in May, a meeting leader said they were going to answer “questions from the team,” despite the fact that he was unaware of questions having been solicited. “If we form a union, could we lose our benefits?” read one anonymous question, to which the leader answered yes. The meeting leaders then listed off individual benefits, such as a generous mental health leave policy, and asked employees to raise their hand if they used it. “Then they’d look at people and say, ‘That mental health benefit you take advantage of, that could be gone.’” Bowles points out that employees would never vote for a contract that stripped them of cherished benefits. (Union contracts must be ratified by a majority of members.)

The CWA union filed an unfair labor practice charge in response to Atlanta’s mandatory captive audience meetings, which the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel has called illegal. In Towson, Apple continued the practice, but changed the meetings from mandatory to optional, which would technically comply with the law. Nonetheless, employees still felt obligated to attend. The meetings were automatically added to people’s schedules, and they had to opt out if they wanted to skip them.

At some point, Gallagher says, management appeared to turn its focus from unions in general to the IAM specifically. They attempted to paint the union as racist, bringing up its history of excluding minorities when it was founded, “without any of the actual historical context of it being the 1880s in Georgia,” notes Gallagher. “Somebody made the point that the union’s run by rich white men,” says Graham DeYoung, a 15-year Apple employee and organizing committee member at the Towson store. “I said, ‘Hey, look at the Apple board of directors.’”

In Atlanta, managers shared a letter written by an employee of the Grand Central Station store in New York City about the union drive there. At the time, Grand Central was affiliated with a different union, Workers United. WIRED reviewed the letter, in which the employee professed to support unions, but wrote, “I do not support THIS union … We’re absolutely allowed to have differences in opinions, we don’t all have to want the same things, or even be friends—but the whispers, the pettiness, the DEATH THREATS, and the straight up ridiculous conspiracy theories, and plots to take each other down has to STOP!”

The idea that organizers were issuing death threats “was an absurd thing in the first place,” says Bowles. “But then when it got posted in our store, it was very clear that the intent was to associate our organizing committee with those kinds of things.”

Employees of both stores say managers amplified the voices of anti-union staff. Gallagher says that when he called employee relations to complain about a coworker who spread false rumors about organizing committee members, he was told that the employee had a right to their opinion. In Atlanta, Rhodes says, a store leader told union supporters they couldn’t discuss the union during work hours, but allowed anti-union staff to freely push their rhetoric.

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