T-Mobile's employment practices called illegal by U.S. labor board judge

A National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that T-Mobile US' (NYSE:TMUS) employment practices violated U.S. labor laws by making it difficult for workers to organize and talk about their salaries. After years of complaints from watchdogs, settlements with workers and a push by Communications Workers of America to get T-Mobile workers unionized, the judge's ruling is a major victory for labor advocates and especially the CWA.

In April 2014, the NLRB consolidated several complaints of labor violations against T-Mobile and then the labor board conducted hearings and a trial. Administrative Law Judge Christine Dibble ruled that 11 of the 13 policies that were being challenged were illegal. Dibble found that T-Mobile workers as a class were affected by the rules, and according to the CWA the judge's order to rescind the rules covers 40,000 workers.

T-Mobile's policies prevented workers from talking with one another about wages, from speaking to the news media about workplace conditions, and from speaking with co-workers to get evidence to fight disciplinary charges, according to the New York Times.

T-Mobile can appeal the decision to the full National Labor Relations Board, and if it loses before the board it could then appeal in federal court.

The provisions were in T-Mobile's employee handbook, code of conduct, confidentiality agreement and a form asking employees to comply with the rules. "This is not the case of a rogue manager here or there," Joseph McCartin, a labor historian at Georgetown University, told the Times. "This is saying that the company's handbook contained a number of prohibitions that clearly violate the workers' rights."

T-Mobile sought to minimize the ruling's impact. "This is simply a ruling about a technical issue in the law that relates to policies that are common to companies across the country," the company said in a statement sent to multiple media outlets. "There are no allegations that any employee has been impacted by these policies."

Several workers shared their experiences with media outlets. Carolina Figueroa worked at a T-Mobile call center in Albuquerque, working to keep Spanish-speaking customers from canceling their service. She told the Post in December that while she likes her job, workers at the call center have been told not to discuss wages and working conditions, and workers are barred from making disparaging statements about T-Mobile and pursuing wage complaints through anyone other than human resources. Employees can be disciplined or fired for violating any of the regulations.

In a statement issued by the CWA, Figueroa said: "We are happy and relieved. 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."

According to the CWA, another NLRB trial will begin in June in Charleston, S.C., to hear more cases of complaints against T-Mobile.

"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 organize and bargain collectively," CWA President Larry Cohen said in a statement. "This behavior can only be changed by a nationwide remedy to restore workers' rights."

The ruling could be a thorn in the side of T-Mobile's majority owner, Deutsche Telekom, which is a member of an influential German labor union known as Ver.di. "Bonn, the headquarters of DT, no longer can hide behind the false statements made by T-Mobile US executives," Cohen said. "These behaviors would be almost unimaginable in Germany or any other democracy in the world."

For more:
- see this NYT article
- see this Reuters article
- see this Washington Post article 
- see this CNET article
- see this CWA release

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