Do Apple Retail Employees Really Need Their Own Union?

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Some Apple retail employees are looking to unionize. Their initial group is small—28 followers on Twitter at the moment—but their message is Apple-like in its simplicity (see this video here): “Our time has come.”

As someone who worked in retail all throughout high school and college, I can certainly appreciate their plight. The pay sucks, the hours are long, the customers can be doughy sacks of crap, and the road to advancement is a long and slippery slope that few people have the wherewithal to stomach.

You’ll likely find no retail store in the U.S. where the employees haven’t talked about unionizing either jokingly or, in this case, seriously.

It wasn’t always this way—at least with electronics retailers. Back in the heady days of fat margins and complicated products that lasted more than a year before breaking down, we had a magic system called “commission.”

Now commission-based pay wasn’t a perfect system—customers got sold stuff they didn’t need, salespeople stabbed each other in the back, nobody made any money in the summer—but the fact was that, as a salesperson for an electronics retailer back then, if you educated yourself about the products you were selling and you worked hard, you could make a decent living.

And so you’d put up with the awful hours and dough-crap customers because it all directly affected your bottom line. Everyone loved working Sunday morning—Sunday morning—because the hoopleheads would come in waving the Sunday ad around, demanding to be sold whatever was featured therein.

So when I was a kid, I worked alongside full-grown, well-adjusted adults who had families. These guys weren’t managers, either. They sold stuff. And many of them made a better living than the store managers. But then margins began to shrink, technology became more disposable, and stores decided they didn’t want to pay people on commission any more.

Best Buy went off commission first and many of the talented salespeople quit. Then Circuit City went off commission and many of the talented salespeople quit. Then CompUSA went off commission and many of the salespeople quit. Note that I didn’t use the word “talented” because, by that time, the writing was on the wall, the commission percentages sucked anyway because the margins were so tiny, and most of the talent had already moved on. If you were one of the last remaining commissioned salespeople at CompUSA, I’m not talking about you, of course. You were a diamond in the rough.

Do you want to know which electronics retailer would be a perfect place for a commission-based payment system, even today? Apple.

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