The frustration was rising for Sydney Rhodes. She was sitting at a hotel conference table across the street from the Apple store where she worked in Atlanta when she heard her boss tell a group of colleagues that they should be grateful to be paid more than other retail employees.

He made a number of arguments at an off-site meeting ahead of the store's vote on whether to join the Communications Workers of America union. Ms. Rhodes considered the $4 more per hour that Apple paid relative to other stores insufficient.

She supported herself by bouncing from part-time work helping customers with phones to a second job delivering Amazon packages to a third shift loading boxes at FedEx. She believed that the union could increase hourly pay and increase full-time opportunities for a largely part-time staff.

In April, Ms. Rhodes helped garner support from 70 percent of the store's workers for a union election. As her boss pushed back dinner at the hotel, she could sense that support was starting to erode.

She said that he would come with an opinion about unions that didn't apply to us.

There are implications for Apple stores across the United States from the exchanges. Two decades after reinventing retail with sleek architecture and concierge tech support, Apple is being confronted by the industry's latest trend: organized labor.

Dollar General, Starbucks and REI have seen a rise in unionization as employees feel the squeeze of inflation. The tech sector has been roiled by the stresses unleashed by those forces, which have helped employees in the video game industry and at an Amazon warehouse win support for unions.

The first Apple store to vote on joining a union was expected to be Ms. Rhodes and her colleagues. The election was suspended last week. More than two dozen more have expressed interest in organizing, and Apple stores in Maryland and New York are expected to hold votes in the coming weeks.

The labor movement has worried Apple executives, who want to foster love for Apple among employees and customers. The unions could end the burnishing of the Apple brand with cheerful salespeople hawking $1,000 phones. The company has suggested that they could increase operating costs and stop the introduction of new products.

Littler Mendelson is an employment law firm that has been hired by Apple. It has given store managers talking points that unionizing could result in fewer promotions and inflexible hours. Last week, its leaders urged employees not to unionize and said they would increase wages to $22 an hour.

I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship, an organization that does not have a deep understanding of Apple or our business. The video was reported by The Verge.

The Cumberland Mall store is about 10 miles from downtown Atlanta, and Josh Rosenstock declined a request for interviews with the managers. Employees who are against the union push were reluctant to speak with The New York Times.

He said the company provided many benefits to retail employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement and family leave.

Even as online orders diminish the importance of its stores, Apple has countered the union push. According to a firm that specializes in tech research, Apple's retail locations make up less than half of the company's sales.

Despite the stores being less important, employees like Ms. Rhodes still view them as Apple's physical connection to the world. She began working at Apple because she loved its products. She bought her first phone at 16 with money she made at Mcdonald's. She became obsessed with the company, tuning into hourslong product events to feed a growing interest in the way they worked.

A manager encouraged her to apply for a job in her hometown after she impressed a store technician with her knowledge of the Apple Watch. The Cumberland Mall store was sandwiched between a Bath & Body Works and a jewelry store when she moved to Atlanta.

Ms. Rhodes was grateful that the company was the first to send its workers home. Frank Howard, the store manager at the time, said that employees at the mall were paid for several months without being required to work. Apple asked them to provide remote sales and technical support after it shipped them a computer.

After the arrival of coronavirus vaccines, they returned to the store. A number of workers got Covid-19 after Apple lifted the mask requirement for staff and customers.

Ms. Rhodes said of Apple, which increased its profits to 95 billion in its fiscal year, 71 percent higher than its last fiscal year before.

Derrick Bowles, a colleague of Ms. Rhodes’s, connected with the Communications Workers of America to learn what it would take to organize.Credit...Melissa Golden for The New York Times

A colleague of Ms. Rhodes, who works in Atlanta, was listening to a show about the Amazon warehouse in Alabama. The genius technician's pay increase was capped at 2 percent, not enough to keep pace with inflation. He contacted the Communications Workers of America after calculating that he was making 15 cents less per hour after inflation.

Mr.Bowles recruited seasoned colleagues. He said they were most familiar with how support of retail had dwindled, with perks like the rental of an entire bowling alley for a 2010 party giving way to Christmas gifts such as backpacks. Employees received a printed copy of Apple's retail slogan on heavy card stock and a T-shirt one year.

He said that the next year they stopped getting Christmas gifts.

She said that Ms. Rhodes was initially skeptical but warmed to the union. She had recently been promoted to a full-time job, earning $26 an hour, but only after a colleague with 14 years of experience left. Most of her colleagues worked less than 30 hours a week. She believed the union could help create more full-time jobs.

They drafted a letter outlining goals, including fair compensation, career development opportunities, improved benefits and a bigger voice in safety policies. They won twice the support they needed when they asked staff if they should vote to unionize. Mr. Bowles gave out wristbands that said "stronger together".

In May, store managers increased their counteroffensive, posting a letter in the break room from an employee of the Grand Central Terminal store who expressed opposition to unions.

An employee wrote that we are not an understaffed warehouse.

Managers made anti-union comments in their morning briefings, according to a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board. Mr. Bowles said that Apple was putting its thumb on the scale.

The employees are divided by the pressure. On a recent Sunday evening at the Cumberland Mall store, about 15 employees in blue T-shirts with a white Apple logo attended to customers browsing rows of colorful watchbands. None of the employees wore bracelets.

Ms. Rhodes said that most stopped wearing the bracelet because of the way management treated them.

Union supporters distributed “Stronger Together” wristbands, but employees felt management treated wearers differently, Ms. Rhodes said.Credit...Melissa Golden for The New York Times

Union leaders in New York and Towson said they could still win their elections despite the wavering support in Atlanta. They pointed to the success of Amazon organizers on Staten Island.

"This isn't Star Wars, where the rebels win and things work out perfectly", said David DiMaria, an organizers advising employees at the store. We feel good.

Cumberland Mall employees were affected by a Covid outbreak in the days leading up to the vote. Apple required masks in the store, even though it did not comment on the outbreak. Ms. Rhodes hoped that the setback would remind her colleagues of the value a union can provide by giving them a voice in decisions related to their health.

The vote was suspended less than 24 hours later. The union blamed Apple for creating an environment of fear. He said that he had not stopped campaigning.