My name is Janneke Parrish. I'm one of the founders of the solidarity union, AppleTogether We are the union representing Apple workers, and one of many unions in the tech industry.

In 2021, Apple fired me for my work with #AppleToo, a movement that brought the discrimination, harassment, and retaliation that many Apple workers were experiencing to light. Since then, I've continued to be outspoken about workers' rights, and how unions can ensure those rights for tech workers.

I now have a new book - The Tech Worker's Guide to Unions - that goes into not only my experiences at Apple, but the experiences of dozens of other tech workers and organisers throughout the industry. It's a guide not only on forming a union in the tech industry, but of being aware of your rights more generally, and of knowing how to stand up when your rights are violated.

Ask me anything about organising in tech, what makes the tech industry unique, and why unions in the tech industry matter!


EDIT: Thanks for all the questions everyone! I'll be closing this AMA, but if you have any more questions or want to reach out, feel free to contact me at

Comments: 57 • Responses: 13  • Date: 

Mobely18 karma

I’m big on unions and labor . My questions are. 1. What material successes have you had with your efforts ? Like do apple workers get paid more now because of you kind of thing.

  1. How do you earn a living wage as an organizer? Do you get donations from other unions or something ?

  2. Do you interact often and directly with politicians?

JannekeParrish17 karma

Great questions!

  1. We have had successes! Apple retail workers, for example, got a pay raise to $22/hour largely because of the pressure we were putting on Apple. Our efforts also got multiple shareholder proposals examining Apple's union busting efforts and commitments to equity in front of shareholders, some of which passed.

  2. I don't work as an organiser. It's something I do in addition to everything else in my life, and always has been. I think this is one of the challenges of tech, that the "always on" nature of many of the jobs in tech limit the ability to have spare time for organising. However, I also think that's something I admire about my fellow organisers - despite everything, we make the time to take care of each other and do this work. There absolutely are paid organisers in unions like CWA, but not in AppleTogether.

  3. Some of us have worked to get new legislation passed. Cher Scarlett, for instance, helped pass a version of the Silenced No More Act in Washington, limited what NDAs can cover when it comes to harassment and discrimination. As an organisation, we don't necessarily work with politicians, but there are definitely political goals that can and ought to be achieved.

ChefTimmy15 karma

I'm definitely pro-union for labor and trades, but it seems to me that high-paid white collar professionals wouldn't even need unions. Are they even really useful for such privileged positions?

JannekeParrish34 karma

This is a really great question!

So first thing's first - not all tech workers are highly paid. I'd even argue that the majority of them are not. There's a stereotype of tech being full of engineers making six figure salaries, but that's not the reality for most tech workers. For example, over half the workers at Google are temporary, vendor, or contract workers, or TVCs. These are low paid workers with no real job security and far fewer benefits or protections than their FTE counterparts. This is the job I started in when I first started at Apple. I was a contract worker, hired on to do multi-lingual data analysis and translation in Austin, TX. I got paid $15/hr, which was less than I'd made delivering pizzas. When Apple hired me on as a full-time worker, I got a pay raise - to $16/hr. There are tech workers who make a lot of money, absolutely, but they are not the norm. For many, many tech workers, a union offers potential pay increases, equity of opportunity, and benefits that there isn't another way to achieve.

However, even for those highly paid workers, unions still offer a lot of benefits. I think an example like Twitter or Bandcamp is helpful to point to here. To reiterate, not all workers there were highly paid, but for Twitter workers - and especially those on H-1B visas - a union could have offered some job security or severance pay, rather than leaving workers stranded. Bandcamp United did a really great job negotiating this for their members, and I think that's a great testament to what unions can do.

It's also well-worth discussing what unions do beyond pay and benefits. One thing we fought for at Apple, for example, was pay equity, remote work, and equity of opportunity for all workers. Remote work especially is something that a lot of workers benefit from, and would do wonders to make the tech industry more accessible to a broad range of workers. While not every job in the tech industry is high paying, there are still lots of good jobs to be had there. Remote work is one way to open those jobs up to the people who can do them, but can't move to Austin or the Bay Area or Atlanta or what have you. Unions in the tech industry benefit not only the workers who are currently there, but the workers who want to be there as well.

ChefTimmy14 karma

To be honest, there's a lot there I didn't know. I appreciate your work in this!

JannekeParrish15 karma

Thank you!

yttropolis-10 karma

I'm gonna be honest with you here. As a tech worker at a FAANG (not Apple), I wouldn't want to join your union.

I know my worth and market rate. If I felt my pay wasn't equitable, I would simply leave for any of the other tech companies that frequent my LinkedIn inbox every week. The only benefit you might provide is arguing for remote work but I don't see how that's gonna be worth union dues.

Unions are great at bringing up those at the bottom but also stiffle those at the top. That's counter to the idea in tech, where you're paid your worth.

Edit: Go ahead, downvote me. Doesn't make me wrong. My peers and I would laugh anyone proposing a tech worker's union out of the room. We've seen first-hand what unions do through teachers' unions, police unions, government unions, etc. Your pay should be based on your performance and ability, not seniority. The ideal is a meritocracy, not equality.

JannekeParrish6 karma

I think this idea that you're paid your worth in tech is an interesting one, and one that doesn't always reflect the lived reality, especially for workers in traditionally marginalised groups.

To give yet another example from AppleTogether, part of why we focused on pay equity is because of the work Cher Scarlett and others did to research what pay gap, if any, existed at Apple. What she found was that there was a significant gap between not only wages, but opportunity between male and female workers, and between white workers and workers of colour. Indeed, you can, to a certain extent, see this reflected on Apple's own diversity reporting, where the bulk of executives are white and male. What we found is that women were paid less for equivalent work, had their work seen as less valuable, and thus were given fewer promotion opportunities. What we found was that people weren't paid their worth, even if their paychecks were relatively high.

That's also getting into the issue of actually figuring out this existed in the first place. Again, citing our experience, Apple was extremely reluctant to let Cher do this research, shutting down multiple surveys to the point that she filed a complaint with the NLRB about having the right to discuss compensation suppressed. You talk about feeling like your pay isn't equitable, but how do you know? It isn't until you discuss it with your colleagues that you can really have a sense of whether or not you're actually being paid your worth.

Original-Guarantee23-25 karma

So it sounds like you are a low skilled worker and barely a tech worker… sure you need a union. But the rest of us engineers making 200k don’t want your interference.

JannekeParrish10 karma

If unions aren't your thing, that's completely fine. All workers benefit from unions, but some have a clearer path to that benefit than others.

However, I think it's also still worth considering how we think about workers. Nothing about the work I or any of my colleagues did is "low-skilled," nor do I believe there is any such thing as "low-skilled work." We need to realise that labour of all kinds has value, and that workers deserve to be compensated fairly and treated fairly for the work they do.

MurkyPerspective7679 karma

It strikes me that being in a union is more, uhh, useful, if one is engaged in blue collar/hourly work, what incentive would there be for a salaried, white collar employee to join one?

JannekeParrish15 karma

Unions are definitely useful for salaried workers as well. One thing that the Kickstarter Union focused on, for example, was including workers' voices in the course of the company and giving workers more of a say in the decisions the company made. This would essentially give everyone a greater stake and greater sense of ownership in their work, rather than workers just being told what to do. Bandcamp United has a similar approach, though in addition to advocating for workers' voices in the company, they also advocate for the musicians who use the platform and the fans who benefit from it.

With AppleTogether, one element we've been fighting for is remote work and making work more accessible for a variety of workers. It's a topic that I think resonates with a lot of people throughout the tech industry, and is one of the reasons we exist in the first place.

You'll also find some common threads throughout all these unions of fighting for pay equity, transparency, and job security. Bandcamp United is another really good example of this, as their union did a lot of work to get them severance during the recent layoffs. Even though unions are more traditionally associated with blue collar work, those ideas of pay equity, transparency, job security, and having a voice in the course of your work are ones that I think all workers benefit from.

zabby391038 karma

Where I work (tech, software dev) I have a lot of problems with management not respecting the value of experience, but also there's a lot of unproductive people that are kept on mostly because it's so hard to hire people (in part because HR insists on lowballing initial offers).

Anyway, I like the idea of a union and I think it could address a lot of my concerns regarding salary and respect for experience, but I really don't like the idea of the union protecting unproductive workers. Is this a valid fear?

JannekeParrish6 karma

That's a fair concern. Unions don't preclude management from making hiring or firing decisions, but rather, serve as a way to ensure the worker's rights are protected and represented throughout the process. A union almost certainly wouldn't stop someone incompetent from correctly losing their job, but would make sure it's done correctly and while being respectful of their rights.

go_to_your_home_ball5 karma

In your experience, what have you found to be more threatening to "the other side": demands and discourse related to class e.g., higher wages, greater protections, questioning distribution of profits, pay gaps between CEOs and workers, and the like; or demands and discourse related to identity, such as what you were fired over (sorry to hear that!)?

I may have answered my own question here lol but excluding the most recent incident, just curious what the management side is reacting to these days and how that compares to the historical trends.

JannekeParrish4 karma

I think these two elements are tightly intertwined. What I think management is most concerned about is the thing that management has always been concerned about - the power dynamic shifting from managers to workers. Workers united are significantly more difficult to control or exploit, and as such, companies will do what they can to prevent this.

With the tech industry specifically, though, I think one of the unique challenges is around company identity. Lots of companies pride themselves on their DEI initiatives or their commitment to equity, and the existence of unions, to many of these companies, threatens that publicly stated identity. This was the case with the Code for America workers I interviewed, for example, where their management saw the existence of the union as a threat to the company because it called into question how committed to equity CfA was. It's this potential clash between a company's publicly stated values and the lived reality of its worker's that provides an incentive for management to shut down unions.

go_to_your_home_ball2 karma

That's a fascinating answer, thank you. If I may ask a followup – are you saying that companies want to be getting credit for promoting equity themselves, and they see unions as threatening because having a union sends the message that there must be inequity at the company?

JannekeParrish3 karma

I think that's one reason, yes.

JustRetributor5 karma

Did Apple fire you because they thought you were bringing too many apples to the office?

JannekeParrish5 karma

Ha, no. :)

original_greaser_bob5 karma

do you use any Apple branded products or services? why or why not?

JannekeParrish15 karma

I do not. I spent over five years working at Apple, and have zero desire to interact with it or its products further.

awdixon095 karma

How do I connect organizing efforts at my current company to existing unions? And how do I communicate with other members of my company in efforts to organize without getting in trouble for misusing company systems?

JannekeParrish6 karma

It's a good question!

For the first part, there are several larger unions that specifically work with smaller unions to provide organising support. CODE-CWA is one of the larger ones, but other unions, like AFL-CIO, also work with unionising tech workers. One of the best suggestions I can make here is to research a union you're thinking of partnering with, then reaching out if they seem like they'd be a good fit. Ask them tough questions about what support they'd give and what their values are, and don't be afraid to say no if they're not a good fit for you.

That said, you also don't have to work with an existing union for your union to succeed. While large unions can provide a lot of support, that support isn't always needed, depending on the size of your company or union. AppleTogether, for instance, does not work with a larger union, but instead provides that infrastructural support. Alphabet Workers' Union, on the other hand, works with CWA. It all depends on what you need and what works best for you and your fellow workers.

Your second question about communication, though, is also really important. The biggest piece of advice is to keep organising off company equipment and servers. Security is paramount, and your work devices are not secure. How you do this depends on your company. If you're in an office or hybrid, asking someone out for coffee or lunch provides a good way to have a conversation without risking getting in trouble for using company property. For remote workers, though, you could consider sending an initial message inviting them to a meeting, and then host that meeting in a non-work software. As an example, when organising with AppleTogether, I would message people using Apple's internal chat software, then speak to them in more detail over Discord on my personal device.

I hope that helps!

rosickness122 karma

Would tech union be for tech companies? Or would it be for tech positions where company is focused on non tech?

Personally I don't get tech unions. If an employer doesn't want to pay for good work I move on. Rather not twist their arm. Know your worth and get that. And not pay union dues. It's been working well last 14 years in career.

JannekeParrish3 karma

I think how you choose to define a union is really up to the union. However, when I say "tech union," I mean a union that exists within a tech company.