New York City Office of the Comptroller

01/17/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 01/17/2023 12:02

New York City Comptroller, Pension Funds, and Coalition of Investors Announce Agreement with Apple on the Rights of...

New York City Comptroller, Pension Funds, and Coalition of Investors Announce Agreement with Apple on the Rights of Workers to Organize

January 17, 2023
Photo Credit: Hussam Abd/Unsplash

Apple will conduct an assessment of the company's compliance with its commitments to freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.

Agreement reached following engagement with the NYC Retirement Systems, Parnassus Investments, SOC Investment Group, SEIU Master Trust Pension Plan, Trillium Asset Management, and the Greater Manchester Pension Fund (advised by PIRC).

New York, NY - The Office of the New York City Comptroller, New York City Retirement Systems, and a coalition of investors jointly announced an agreement has been reached with Apple, Inc. (AAPL) to conduct a third-party assessment overseen by its board of directors of the company's adherence to its Human Rights Policy, with a focus on the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively. It will also review management's practices when employees seek to exercise their rights to form or join or refrain from joining a union. Apple has agreed to publicly release the report by the end of 2023.

Apple reached an agreement with the five New York City Retirement Systems, Trillium ESG Global Equity Fund, SOC Investment Group, Parnassus Investments, Service Employees International Union Master Trust Pension Plan and the Greater Manchester Pension Fund (advised by Pensions & Investment Research Consultants (PIRC)). The coalition of investors represents approximately 53 million Apple shares valued at $7 billion. The investor coalition filed a shareholder proposal with Apple in September 2022, calling for such an assessment.

Apple employees have announced efforts to unionize at stores across the United States. While Apple's Human Rights Policy includes a commitment to respect the International Labour Organization's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which includes "freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining," there have been numerous reports of Apple's interference with its workers freedom of association in organizing efforts. As of August 25, 2022, the National Labor Relations Board was investigating 14 charges of unfair labor practices involving Apple.

Today, the investor coalition also sent a letter to Apple's board setting out its expectations regarding the implementation of the withdrawal agreement. Specifically, they wrote to stress the importance of Apple's commitment to non-interference as well as to provide certain recommendations regarding the selection of the assessor and conduct of the assessment. The intention of the letter is to support Apple in conducting an assessment that is valuable, useful, and actionable for the company and its relevant stakeholders, including workers and investors.

"Workers organizing at Apple for a collective voice in their workplace have reported strong pushback from the company - that flies in the face of Apple's stated human rights commitment to workers' freedom of association," said New York City Comptroller Brad Lander. "I'm grateful to Apple's board of directors for listening to the concerns of shareholders regarding worker rights and hope the company will heed the findings of the third-party assessment and take concrete steps to adopt a genuine commitment to non-interference that respects the rights of its workers. Our shareholder coalition is an example of 'ESG done right:' shareholders addressing reputational and systemic risks in order to better ensure the thriving of companies, to the benefit of their shareholders, workers, and communities."

"We welcome Apple's willingness to undertake this review and encourage the company to use this process to ensure that its stated commitments are given practical application," said Tom Powdrill, Head of Stewardship at PIRC. "Apple is an important investment for many of our clients and they want to have confidence that employees are able to exercise their workplace rights without interference. European investors are increasingly focused on employment relations as a risk factor, Apple has an opportunity to demonstrate that it is taking their interest seriously."

"Apple's reported interference with staff unionization efforts creates unnecessary financial risks to the retirement of thousands of New York employees," said Renaye Manley, Deputy Director of Strategic Initiatives at SEIU. "Working people want to invest in brands that respect working people. We hope this independent assessment will provide Apple with the tools to mitigate and correct any value discrepancies that may endanger the investments of those working in New York's public sector."

"We welcome the board's long-awaited commitment to an independent third-party audit of Apple's adherence to human rights policies - including workers' freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining," said Emma Bayes, Director of ESG Engagement at the SOC Investment Group. "While this commitment represents a critical first step, both shareholders and workers alike expect the audit process to be fully transparent, and for the auditors' final recommendations for Apple to be made publicly available. Only then can we adequately measure and address the full risks and impact of Apple's past noncompliance - and right the ship so Apple workers' rights and freedoms are respected moving forward."

"This assessment offers an opportunity to make sure Apple is living up to its quest to serve the public good," said Jonas D. Kron, Chief Advocacy Officer at Trillium Asset Management. "Employees are the backbone of the company, and we are troubled by the public reporting that Apple is failing to respect workers' rights to organize. Undertaking this assessment is critical for Apple to understand if it is living up to its stated commitments to workers' rights and to ensure it avoids behavior that conflicts with employee, investor, and public sentiment. We encourage Apple to take this as a learning opportunity to understand how to better protect workers' rights - it is the right thing to do."

"We applaud Apple for taking this step to recognize its workers' rights," said Bryan Berge, representative of Mayor Eric Adams, chair of the Board of Trustees of the New York City Employees' Retirement System, and trustee of the New York City Teachers' Retirement System, the New York City Police Pension Fund, and the New York City Fire Pension Fund. "Apple's action is yet more proof of the power of shareholders to effect positive change."

"As unionists, the UFT and its trustees on the Teachers Retirement System board applaud any actions that make it easier for workers to organize," said Debra Penny, UFT Treasurer and chair of the Teachers' Retirement System board.

In a press release, Communications Workers of America said, "We support investor advocates' efforts to ensure this is a credible audit."

In addition to Comptroller Lander, the trustees of the aforementioned systems are as follows:

New York City Employees' Retirement System (NYCERS): Mayor Eric Adams' Appointee Bryan Berge, Director, Mayor's Office of Pension and Investments; New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams; Borough Presidents: Mark Levine (Manhattan), Donovan Richards (Queens), Antonio Reynoso (Brooklyn), Vito Fossella (Staten Island), and Vanessa L. Gibson (Bronx); Henry Garrido, Executive Director, District Council 37, AFSCME; Tony Utano, President Transport Workers Union Local 100; and Gregory Floyd, President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 237.

Teachers' Retirement System (TRS): Mayor Eric Adams' Appointee Bryan Berge, Director, Mayor's Office of Pension and Investments; Chancellor's Representative, Benjamin Schanback, New York City Department of Education; and Debra Penny (Chair), Thomas Brown and David Kazansky, all of the United Federation of Teachers.

New York City Fire Pension Fund (Fire): Mayor Eric Adams' Representative Bryan Berge, Director, Mayor's Office of Pension and Investments; New York City Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh (Chair); New York City Finance Commissioner Preston Niblack; Andrew Ansbro, President, Robert Eustace, Vice President, Edward Brown, Treasurer, and Eric Bischoff, Staten Island Representative and Chair, Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York; Liam Guilfoyle, Captains' Rep.; James Brosi, Chiefs' Rep., and Christopher Jensen, Lieutenants' Rep., Uniformed Fire Officers Association; and Peter Devita, Marine Engineers Association.

New York City Police Pension Fund (Police): Mayor Eric Adams' Representative Bryan Berge, Director, Mayor's Office of Pension and Investments; New York City Finance Commissioner Preston Niblack; New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell (Chair); Chris Monahan, Captains Endowment Association; Louis Turco, Lieutenants Benevolent Association; Vincent Vallelong, Sergeants Benevolent Association; Paul DiGiacomo, Detectives Endowment Association; and Patrick Lynch, John Puglissi, Joseph Alejandro, and Artie Egner, all of the NYC Police Benevolent Association.

Board of Education Retirement System (BERS): Schools Chancellor David C. Banks, Represented by Seritta Scott; New York City Comptroller Brad Lander's Representative Alison Hirsh; Mayoral: Vasthi Acosta, Marjorie Dienstag, Gregory Faulkner, Dr. Angela Green, Kyle Kimball, Alan Ong, Maisha Sapp, Karina Taveras, Gladys Ward; Thomas Sheppard (CEC); Geneal Chacon (Bronx); Tazin Azad (Brooklyn); Kaliris Salas-Ramirez (Manhattan); Sheree Gibson (Queens); Aaron Bogad (Staten Island); and employee members John Maderich of the IUOE Local 891 and Donald Nesbit of District Council 37, Local 372.