T-Mobile promises to appeal ‘unfair labor practices’ ruling that outlaws ‘T-Voice’ worker group

T-Mobile operates a number of call centers, with thousands of workers.

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge ruled that T-Mobile “engaged in certain unfair labor practices” and needs to “cease and desist” its corporate support of the T-Voice worker group it created in 2015. The Communications Workers of America union is hailing the action as another step toward its goal of unionizing T-Mobile’s workers under its own group, called T-Mobile Workers United (TU).

Sharon Levinson Steckler, NLRB administrative law judge, wrote that “whenever an employer unlawfully establishes and maintains a dominated labor organization, that organization must be disestablished.”

CWA crowed of the ruling in a release, describing T-Voice as a “desperate attempt to stop TU.”

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“This copycat organization was ‘chartered’ to be the ‘voice’ of employees and address their ‘pain points,” CWA wrote in its release. CWA initially brought the T-Voice issue to the NLRB last year. “Yet management has funded this organization, handpicked T-Voice representatives, and selected the issues that would get resolved.”

“If T-Mobile wants to address its workers’ concerns and ideas, we have democratically-elected representatives ready and willing to meet with management to discuss how we can improve our workplace,” said Angela Melvin, a T-Mobile customer service representative in Wichita, Kan., who sits on the steering committee of TU, also in the CWA release. TU is backed by the CWA and Germany's union ver.di, which represents workers at T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom.

A T-Mobile spokesperson declined to comment on the ruling, but T-Mobile CEO John Legere took to Twitter to denounce the ruling.

“This is ludicrous. We’re appealing. Listening to front-line employees tell us what customers need is imperative to our business,” Legere wrote. “Being the #Uncarrier is all about listening to customers and solving pain points. That’s what T-voice does & we will always defend them!”

The dust-up is the latest in a long line of skirmishes between T-Mobile and unions. For example, last year Change to Win Retail Initiatives, which describes itself as a "retail and labor watchdog," called on the FCC to investigate allegations that T-Mobile "fraudulently enrolls subscribers into costly, unwanted add-on services" such as insurance plans, unlimited data offerings or upgrade plans.

And also last year a NLRB judge ruled that T-Mobile violated U.S. labor law in Maine and South Carolina when it had employees sign a confidentiality agreement after it launched an investigation into employee complaints. The action drew condemnation by the AFL-CIO.

And a NLRB judge also ruled in 2015 that T-Mobile’s employment practices violated U.S. labor laws by making it difficult for workers to organize and talk about their salaries. 

Of course, T-Mobile isn’t the only telecom operator that has struggled with unions. Verizon’s wireline business struggled through a 45-day, union-organized strike almost exactly a year ago. More recently, 17,000 AT&T wireline worked walked off the job in California and Nevada, but returned the next day.