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Weary from the pandemic and pressured by inflation, retail employees of the tech giant are holding votes on whether to unionize.

ATLANTA -- Sydney Rhodes's frustration was rising. Seated at a hotel conference table across the street from the Apple store where she worked in Atlanta, she listened as her boss suggested to a dozen colleagues that they should be grateful to be paid more than other retail employees.

It was among a series of arguments he made this month at an off-site meeting ahead of the store's vote on whether to join the Communications Workers of America union. Ms. Rhodes, a 26-year-old union organizer, considered the roughly $4 more per hour that Apple paid relative to other stores insufficient.

Before a recent promotion, she supported herself by bouncing from part-time work helping customers with iPhones to a second job delivering Amazon packages to a third shift loading boxes at FedEx. She had championed the union because she thought it could boost hourly pay and increase full-time opportunities for a largely part-time staff.

In April, Ms. Rhodes's advocacy helped garner support from 70 percent of the store's 100-plus workers for a union election. But as her boss pushed back over dinner at a Sheraton Hotel, she could sense that support beginning to fray.

"Any time someone asked me a question," she said, "he would come with an opinion about unions that didn't apply to us at all."

The exchanges cut to the heart of a contest with implications for some 272 Apple stores across the United States. Two decades after redefining retail with sleek architecture and concierge tech support, Apple is being confronted by the industry's latest trend: organized labor....