The San Francisco man who last month anonymously publicized a campaign to improve working conditions at Apple’s retail stores has now gone public himself. Cory Moll, 30, works at a Bay Area retail store, and in an email to the media today says, “I’m coming out.” Since his original email announcing the movement on Apple retail’s 10th anniversary, Moll says, “Coworkers from all across the country and around the world have written in. The stories people have told so far are becoming a giant echo, and it resonates in a way that has motivated me to become a harbinger of change. They want this.” He makes it clear that Apple employees love their jobs and the “experience and delight we get to share with our customers.” But Moll adds, “We have become increasingly disrespected by management at all levels of the retail management structure.” In an exclusive interview with IFO in the lobby of a downtown San Francisco hotel, Moll expanded upon the movement, saying that while there are issues affecting all of Apple’s stores, improvements and any unionization will have to be made store-by-store, accomplished by individual employee actions.
Moll has worked multiple positions within Apple’s stores, at more than one location, and in more than one state. He’s seen inequities around him and has also been the subject of them. Over the past two years, he’s considered how working conditions at the stores could be improved, but was only recently motivated to act.
“I didn’t think that I’d ever be in a position like this,” Moll said of being the voice for 30,200 retail employees. “You never think that, almost 30 years old, and I’d be launching a project to change conditions at a major company.” He’s joked to others, “I might be the next Norma Rae.”
Moll deliberately picked Apple retail’s 10th anniversary to announce the movement. “It was really important to come forward on the anniversary, because at a time where we’re celebrating the success of Apple’s retail stores, I wanted to highlight that, on the other side of the curtain, the employees are facing all sorts of issues.”
He cited unfair pay practices, inadequate benefits, unfair promotion practices and favoritism as some of the issues being discussed.
His message was targeted both for the public and Apple retail employees. “While people are focusing on Apple’s retail stores, I want (the public) to know what else is going on.” At the same time, “I want to let employees know if they’re experiencing any kind of issues, that there’s this movement, that we hope to address some of those things for them.”
“The goal is to get people talking about it, to get them to explore what’s really going on in their stores.”
The movement isn’t trying to take any of the shine off Apple’s brand. “By no means was it trying to take away any of the limelight from Apple. They have quite a big limelight, and they don’t need anything taken away from that,” Moll says.
In fact, Moll says employees are very loyal to the company and have a high degree of satisfaction. So far, he’s received email from about 100 stores in the chain, representing employees from all job positions and all countries. “All up and down the U.S. and even abroad,” Moll says, including stores in Japan, Australia and several in Europe. The employees are asking him for information about the movement and telling him stories from their store.
“From the email messages that I’ve received from employees, everybody loves their jobs,” Moll says. “Everybody loves getting up in the morning and doing awesome stuff that we get to do.” But the message is, “It’s how we’re treated for that, how we’re paid for that. It’s the management side of Apple that we have an issue with. It has nothing to do with our jobs, what we’re paid to do.”
Among the specific issues is ambiguity about how company policies and regulations are administered and enforced, Moll says. Many policies are set at the corporate level, but regional and store managers have discretion to change the rules or enforce them differently. “I’m still exploring whether or not that seems to be a pattern in all the stores, or if it’s isolated to a handful of stores,” he says.
Even pay has its variabilities. “They don’t really have a pay scale. I believe that’s largely up to each region and each market,” Moll says. Like most national companies, Apple’s pay rates vary according by region. But unlike most companies, store managers seem to have the ability to hire new employees at rates beyond the range, Moll says.
“In a few cases I’ve heard there seems to be some inequality of pay based on gender,” Moll says, “which is something this movement will highlight.” He also hopes that spotlight will empower the affected employees to take action.
“One of the goals is to make sure that people are being hired at a fair wage across the board,” Moll explains, “to make sure they are being given the right expectation, like wage increases, which typically happen in the reviews in the fall time.”
Apple’s popularity also creates issues for employees. Increased customer traffic by locals and overseas visitors has put a burden on the staff. “As that traffic increases, it allows for things to slip through, such as breaks and lunches.” He says Genius Bar teams have “appointment after appointment after appointment,” and sometimes are not able to take their breaks on time, or are being asked to stay late to finish paperwork or other tasks. The back-of-house inventory team has to deal with increased shipments of products, tracking them from delivery to sales on the floor.
“We can be fired for any or no reason at any time.”
Meanwhile, Moll says Apple is hiring more part-time employees and cutting back individual hours. Worse, he says managers are demanding high availability from part-timers, even though their hours are low. “The expectation they’ve set for part-time people is being full-time minded,” Moll explains. Since the part-timers are committing to work almost any time of day or week, they can’t schedule second jobs to pick up additional money. “They want us to be available so much, that’s it’s difficult to get an outside job to pick up that slack. Some people are finding themselves in really difficult financial situations because of that.”
Moll also says there’s a lot of “favoritism among store management teams, or un-favoritism,” when good-performing employees are unfairly evaluated. “They try to find ways to get rid of those employees, where they may be scrutinized more than others,” he says. Apple uses a policy of “fearless feedback,” but sometimes employees get pulled aside and are “lambasted” by a manager without any opportunity to provide their side of what happened.
“Having a union, having a contract, would outline in a clear way a procedures for situations like that, to ensure that employees are given the benefit of the doubt, to offer them an opportunity to explain the situation and to not have to face a such harsh talking-to right off the bat,” Moll says.
Moll also points to the employees’ at-will employment as an issue. “That’s something that a lot of people are unnerved about. We can be fired for any or no reason at any time.” He notes that at-will also allows employees to resign without notice. Belonging to a union would provide some protection against arbitrary termination. “It would have to be Apple saying, here’s the reason, black-and-white, in writing what happened and why we’re letting you go.”
Just having a contract would be an improvement, he notes. “A contract would have everything in writing, maybe even right down to the particular policies that they have to work under, so that there’s no ambiguity as to what’s expected of an employee. It benefits the workers in every way to have a contract, even if it’s something as simple as doing away with at-will.”
Beyond those specifics, Moll says the employees who have contacted him simply feel disconnected from the company. “The things that employees are emailing me make me want to do something for those who feel they’ve been disenfranchised, that they feel they’re just another person who works at the company, they’re not…they just work there.”
Are Moll and others on a path to unionization? “It’s both a unionization movement and a work improvement movement,” he explains. “It’s the beginning. It’s far from an implementation of a union yet. It’s definitely going to be a store-by-store movement.”
He stresses that the dissatisfaction may not be universal, and pushing forward will by done by individuals at each store. “If they find they’re encountering these issues at their store, it’s gotta be them that step up. Because the problems may not be happening at one store, but they may be just rampant at another store. It’s gotta be up to those stores, those teams, those people at those stores, to come forward and speak up if they want that change.”
So first, Moll says, “The goal is to get people talking about it, to get them to explore what’s really going on in their stores, and to empower them to make that change.”
He hopes the company’s reaction will be positive, but adds, “It’s very hard to say.” He’s researched comments from Steve Jobs on the subject of unions, finding only remarks the CEO made about teachers and tenure. Jobs apparently disagrees with the concept that teachers should have guaranteed jobs based on length of service.
“I’d agree with him in that sense,” Moll says. “Performance has to still be there. If someone’s not performing well, it’s time to correct it or move on.” Taking that further, he says, “I don’t think any employer or a group of employees would want to have something that says you’re guaranteed tenure, even if you don’t perform well—that doesn’t work.”
His message to Jobs: “I would hope that Steve Jobs would at least align with the kind of issues we’re facing as employees. And at the very least, work with us in the stores that want this to go forward, to let us have our voice, to not engage in activity that would ensue in drama.”
Moll also points to Apple’s code of conduct of its suppliers. “The suppliers need to have a guarantee of freedom of association for their employees,” he says “So it would be very critical for them to expect that from their suppliers, but to say, ‘You can’t have that at our stores,’ or to put out messages to be contradictory to that.”
What Path Now?
The next step is exploratory, Moll says, increasing awareness through the distribution of information, both on the Web and passed from employee to employee. It’s that latter category that may create some conflicts with Apple. Moll says Apple’s corporate policy is, “Apple employees are not permitted to distribute literature during work time or in any work area.” But that policy seems to conflict with federal laws that regulate union organizing activities.
“The interpretation of this right now, I’m finding out, is that it’s not allowed,” Moll says. “I’m trying ways to make it so people who want to do that won’t be fired for it.” He says employees will be finding ways to distribute information off-the-clock or in non-work areas. “How do people distribute the flyers about this, when management is interpreting this as kind of a blanket of—you can’t do this anywhere?”
Ominously, Moll says there are many employees willing to be disciplined in order to test the company’s literature distribution policy, “Myself included.”
In the San Francisco area, Moll is working with what he calls a “prominent national union” to help organize activities at his store. He says it’s very likely that union will also be a point of contact locally for other stores. “We haven’t gotten to that part yet,” he says.
Asked if he had a message for Sr. V-P Retail Ron Johnson, Moll was low-key. “I would love to be able to meet with him at some point, when more people come forward, when more issues are identified.” He stresses that there should be local store discussions about issues before moving forward.
In fact, those discussion might end talk about unionization, he notes. “To be able to talk and say, here’s our issues, not with the expectation that anything will be done, but engage in a dialog that might inspire change at other stores, which kind of counteracts the whole point of having a union in the first place, where employees come together and they decide what change they want to see, they negotiate with Apple and try to come to common ground on different issues.”
Moll was measured in his words during the interview, and seems in no hurry to make things happen. “This is going to take time,” he says. “It’s word of mouth initially. It’s going to take at least one person in each store to come forward and speak up for those changes, like I have in my store.” Employees will hear about what is happening, and maybe empower them to step up and be a leader, he says.
“When I launched this movement, I certainly didn’t have the expectation that I would have all the stores want to storm the gates to bring about change,” Moll says. “But knowing that there is a good number of stores that want this change is encouraging, and will definitely motivate me to continue doing this.”E-mail this story