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In NLRB Complaint, CWA Claims T-Mobile Is Running a Fake Union to Bust Organizing Efforts

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T-Mobile, the nation’s third largest telecommunications company, has been accused of forming a fake union in an attempt to thwart the increasingly successful efforts by Communications Workers of America (CWA) members to organize call center workers.  The tactic of creating a company-controlled union to hurt the efforts of an independent one has been illegal in the United States since the 1930’s.  CWA has taken its argument to the NLRB.  

Though the CWA campaign has only won two contracts, organizing just 30 of the company’s 45,000 employees, it has been gaining momentum.  The fake union, known as T-Voice, was addressed by CWA President Chris Shelton in a Bloomberg interview:

“They’re funding this sham union, and it is totally and absolutely illegal, and it is totally and absolutely nonsense.  If they want to know what the problems are at T-Mobile, they could meet with folks who are elected by the people of T-Mobile and not by the CEO.”

According to the CWA’s NLRB complaint, T-Voice has been used as an example of why unions are not needed during T-Mobile’s captive audience meetings.  Those who represent workers in the group are selected by management, not independently elected to their positions.  

T-Voice is similar to the work councils that T-Mobile’s parent company, Deutsche Telekom, may be used to using. But legal experts assert their illegality in the United States. 

The complaint is the latest in a long string of complaints brought against T-Mobile since CWA began organizing there.  An overview of the complaints comes from Bloomberg’s Josh Eidelson:

In complaints filed last year, NLRB lawyers alleged that T-Mobile violated federal labor laws by stopping employees in Albuquerque from discussing the union at work; by firing a worker in Bothell, Wash., for reporting safety concerns; and by prohibiting employees in Oakland, Maine, from discussing internal misconduct investigations. In March 2015 an NLRB judge ruled that 11 T-Mobile rules challenged earlier by CWA—including restrictions on workers communicating with each other and with reporters about workplace issues—violated federal law. “This is simply a ruling about a technical issue in the law that relates to policies that are common to companies across the country,” T-Mobile said in a 2015 statement.

Some lawmakers argue that laws prohibiting groups such as T-Voice should be loosened to assist companies who are making a good faith effort to communicate with their employees. But history shows that such groups have been use to bust unions at an exponentially higher rate than they have been used to help employees find ‘their voice.’  In a vacuum, the idea may seem acceptable to an idealist, but in reality it is another way in which companies can control the legally protected actions of their workers.  As CWA General Counsel Jody Calemine notes:

This is the equivalent of allowing Mexico to choose the U.S. trade representative.  I think it’s common sense that that is a conflict of interest.”


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