NLRB Gives T-Mobile a Strong Signal: Firing Workers Who Want to Unionize Is Illegal

For the past several years, T-Mobile workers say they have faced an extensive campaign of intimidation and attack on their organizing and bargaining rights. According to a claim against the German-owned company, T-Mobile US illegally fired and disciplined workers at its call center in Wichita, Kansas, for attempting to unionize. The National Labor Relations Board’s then-Acting General Counsel Lafe E. Solomon said earlier this month that the government would prosecute T-Mobile US for violating U.S. labor law. On November 1, Solomon announced the decision (PDF) to move against T-Mobile.

Last year, T-Mobile closed seven call centers in the United States and shipped more than 3,300 jobs overseas.

Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen says the NLRB’s action:

Speaks to the systematic abuse of workers’ rights by T-Mobile US and the hands off approach by Deutsche Telekom, a German corporation that owns 75 percent of T-Mobile.

The NLRB alleges that T-Mobile US illegally fired Joshua Coleman and disciplined Ellen Brackeen for their support of union representation. Coleman worked for three-and-a-half years at a T-Mobile customer call center, where he was a top performer and received many promotions, performance awards and written commendations. He also was selected to train newly hired employees.

That all changed, says Coleman, as he continued to voice his support for a voice on the job.

I was an active and vocal supporter of having a union and getting a voice on the job for my co-workers and myself. I was targeted and ultimately fired for this activity, despite the fact that none of the allegations made against me were true.

Cohen says the NLRB also will reopen the charge related to destroying Coleman’s notebooks documenting discrimination for organizing activity at the site.

When Coleman returned to the call center to retrieve his personal belongings, he learned that pages containing notes about his union activities and those of his co-workers had been removed from his notebook. The call center’s human resources director says she read the notes and confiscated them.

T-Mobile US workers have won widespread support from members of the German union ver.di, which represents Deutsche Telekom workers. Deutsche Telekom is T-Mobile’s parent company. Earlier this year, several thousand Deutsche Telekom workers in Germany wore shirts to work and other public events that said, “We are all Josh.”

In Germany, Deutsche Telekom and ver.di have a long relationship and negotiate regularly with union representation a key part of the company culture, including representation on the company board. But despite the German union’s urging that Deutsche Telekom acts to ensure its T-Mobile US subsidiary respect the workers’ rights, it has yet to do so. Says Cohen:

We look forward to the day when T-Mobile US is tolerant of those who organize, just as its German owner Deutsche Telekom has been for generations.

A date for the hearing will be set by the NLRB. Find out more about the T-Mobile workers’ struggle herehere and here.

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Mike Hall
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