The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found merit to complaints that high-level executives at Apple violated national labor law. This finding comes after the NLRB also found that Apple illegally interfered with labor organizing at retail stores in New York City and Atlanta.
These charges were filed by Ashley Gjøvik, a former senior engineer program manager at Apple.
In an email to TechCrunch, Gjøvik explained that Apple employment policies "coercively silence Apple employees and chill them from engaging in protected activity through over-broad and vague terms, as well as through an implication of constant surveillance."
Gjøvik submitted a number of documents as part of her NLRB complaint, including an email from CEO Tim Cook. After a journalist live-tweeted an Apple all hands meeting in September 2021, Cook sent a memo to staff expressing frustration about leaks to the media.
"I want to reassure you that we are doing everything in our power to identify those who leaked. As you know, we do not tolerate disclosures of confidential information, whether it's product IP or the details of a confidential meeting," Cook wrote. "We know that the leakers constitute a small number of people. We also know that people who leak confidential information do not belong here."
A representative from the NLRB told TechCrunch that work rules, handbook rules and confidentiality rules at Apple "tend to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their right to protected concerted activity," according to these findings. Per labor law, this "protected concerted" activity refers to actions like speaking to the media or openly talking with co-workers about pay and benefits, among other things. It is illegal for employers to threaten or question employees about their participation in these behaviors.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment on the NLRB's findings.
Even while she was still an Apple employee, Gjøvik spoke out against sexism she experienced in the workplace, as well as the ways that Apple surveils its employees. Last year, TechCrunch reported on Gjøvik's whistleblower complaints about Gobbler (also known as Glimmer), an app that gathers biometric data; this was apparently part of the product development process for Face ID. Per the complaint that she filed with international oversight bodies, Gjøvik was made to feel that testing the Gobbler app was mandatory.
"Apple was pressuring employees to upload their 'faceprint data' to Apple internal servers, capturing secret photographs and videos of employees, and told employees that face-related logs were automatically uploaded from their iPhones daily," Gjøvik alleged at the time. She added that it was not clear what data of hers was being uploaded, and what organizations within the corporate Apple structure could access her personal information. As The Verge reported, Apple employees are often systematically prevented from maintaining separate work and personal cellphones and Apple IDs.
Gjøvik was fired by Apple in September 2021 for leaking confidential information; she told TechCrunch that she thinks she was fired in retaliation after reporting to the EPA that her office was built on the triple site of toxic waste in Silicon Valley, where cracks in the floor exposed employees to carcinogenic fumes.
The NLRB has not yet made a decision regarding Gjøvik's complaints that she was illegally fired in retaliation for speaking out about work conditions.