A judge at the National Labor Relations Board has found T-Mobile US guilty of engaging in nationwide labour law violations against workers. The unprecedented ruling comes following a rare move by the NLRB consolidating multiple complaints against T-Mobile US for illegal actions and policies in Albuquerque, N.M.; Wichita, Kans.; Charleston, S.C., and New York City.
At issue were illegal corporate nationwide policies that block workers from organising or even talking to each other about problems at work. Workers throughout the T-Mobile US system were subjected to and effectively silenced by these illegal policies; the judge’s order to rescind them covers 40,000 workers. Coming on the heels of repeated complaints issued by the NLRB against T-Mobile US and its labour practices, the ruling shines a light on how management’s efforts to suppress workers’ organising activity has been supported by wide-ranging, unlawful corporate policies issued from the highest levels of the company. Even while this trial was underway, additional complaints against the company have issued from the NLRB. Another NLRB trial will begin in June in Charleston, South Carolina, to hear yet more cases of T-Mobile US’s unlawful suppression of workers’ rights, and other charges and complaints continue to pile up. The decision by Judge Christine Dibble focused on T-Mobile US’s illegal employment policies and restrictions that prohibited workers from discussing wages with each other or criticizing working conditions or seeking out assistance to blow the whistle on unlawful behavior. Read the decision
Over and over again, the decision finds that the corporate policies “would chill employees in the exercise of their…rights” or would be construed “as restricting [an employee’s] rights to engage in protected concerted activities, including unionizing efforts.” Judge Dibble found that T-Mobile US’s Wage and Hour Complaint Procedure, for example, “tends to inhibit employees from banding together.” She writes that the corporate procedure’s requirement that an employee notify management of a wage issue first, “in combination with the threat of discipline for failing to adhere to the rule, would ‘reasonably tend to inhibit employees from bringing wage-related complaints to, and seeking redress from, entities other than the Respondent, and restrains the employees’ …rights to engage in concerted activities for collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” According to the ruling, T-Mobile US’s email policy and various confidentiality policies violate the law by restricting employees’ ability to disclose or discuss basic workplace issues, such as their wages. Similarly, Judge Dibble has ruled that the company’s policy restricting employees’ communications with the media is illegal, as it prohibits employees from speaking out on inquiries about wages or other conditions of employment. In all, Judge Dibble found that 11 of the 13 corporate policies or provisions at issue in the case are illegal.
CWA President Larry Cohen said, “This decision exposes the deliberate campaign by T-Mobile US management to break the law systematically and on a nationwide scale, blocking workers from exercising their right to organise and bargain collectively. This behavior can only be changed by a nationwide remedy to restore workers’ rights. Deutsche Telekom, the principal owner of T-Mobile US, has claimed that its U.S. subsidiary follows the law. Now we have the official word: T-Mobile US is a lawbreaker. Bonn, the headquarters of DT, no longer can hide behind the false statements made by T-Mobile US executives. These behaviors would be almost unimaginable in Germany or any other democracy in the world.” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a union member, small business owner and a champion of working families, said, “T-Mobile employees have come to Capitol Hill to share their stories of fear and intimidation and efforts to block workers from organising. These workers have had to put up with an outright hostile environment in violation of their basic constitutional rights. Today’s decision is a huge win for every hardworking American who is fighting for their right to organise and demand better wages and more job security.”
The ruling was preceded by years of federal complaints against T-Mobile US for unlawful labour practices around the country. Those complaints, which have covered all manner of violations, from firing union supporters to illegally restricting employees’ ability to communicate with one another, were often brought to the cusp of trial and then settled by T-Mobile US, which has paid tens of thousands of dollars to avoid a judge’s guilty finding. Today’s merit finding marks a turning point in efforts to effectively enforce US labour law at T-Mobile US. Judge Dibble’s decision addresses written policies that T-Mobile US disseminated to employees and managers nationwide – policies that invariably reinforced a management culture, reflected in complaint after complaint, of shutting down workers who attempted to speak out for fairness on the job.
“We are happy and relieved,” said Carolina Figueroa, T-Mobile US call center worker from Albuquerque. “We are finally being heard. My coworkers and I at T-Mobile US will have the right to speak out against unfair treatment and should not be muzzled or retaliated against – and with today’s decision, the company has to declare this to all of its employees nationwide.”
Adrian Dominguez works at the Metro PCS-T-Mobile US retail store in New York City. “Now that we have a union we aren’t scared to talk about our working conditions at work. I am hopeful that my colleagues across the country will realise that the law protects their rights to discuss the benefits of joining together into a union, now that the judge has found T-Mobile US guilty of preventing workers from talking about their working conditions.”
Josh Coleman was a top-achieving customer service representative in Wichita when he was fired by T-Mobile US for mobilising his co-workers for union representation. “Through repeated team meetings and written policy, T-Mobile US unlawfully silenced employees and created a culture of fear to stifle communication. I hope that now thousands of my T-Mobile US co-workers will know they can come out of the shadows and build the union that so many of us want.”
T-Mobile US workers and their colleagues at T-Mobile in Germany together have built TU, an organisation that represents them. Thousands of German workers, members of the 2 million member union ver.di, have formed city-to-city partnerships with T-Mobile US workers, and together are pushing Deutsche Telekom to ensure that U.S. workers can bargain collectively, just as telecom workers in Germany do.