Union-backed consumer group files complaint against T-Mobile

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) is once again coming under fire from Change to Win Retail Initiatives, which describes itself as a "retail and labor watchdog." And once again, Change to Win's motives aren't crystal clear.

CtW this week 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. Corporate policies encourage fraudulent additions to consumers' bills, according to CtW.

The group's FCC filing also claimed that T-Mobile's "no contract" advertising is misleading because the carrier instead offers 24-month financing plans for phones, and customers who cancel service before the agreement is consummated must pay the remaining balance on the devices. Customers who pay for the device upfront or bring their own device aren't enrolled in equipment installment plans (EIPs).

Finally, the CtW urged the FCC to investigate T-Mobile's advertising that claims the carrier will pay off early termination fees (ETFs) or EIPs of users who switch from other carriers. Rather than make those payments immediately, T-Mobile's reimbursement process can take up to eight weeks, the group said, and users are paid in the form of prepaid Visa cards that can't be exchanged for cash and expire after one year.

Change to Win is a coalition of three major unions: The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Service Employees International Union, and United Farm Workers. Change to Win Retail Initiatives says it is a project of the labor union designed "to rebuild the middle class through strengthening consumer and worker protections." CtW began making similar claims against T-Mobile late last year. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said last month his office was investigating complaints of misleading T-Mobile ads.

T-Mobile CEO Jon Legere responded to news reports at the time via Twitter. "We stand by our ads!" Legere tweeted. "Contrary to the click-bait headline, we haven't been accused of false advertising by any regulatory body."

And it's worth noting that T-Mobile has had run-ins with unions in its recent past.

The AFL-CIO earlier this month weighed in on a T-Mobile dispute over working conditions, urging the carrier to change its policies regarding confidentiality agreements for internal investigations and to inform employees of their rights as potential whistleblowers. The move followed an August ruling by a National Labor Relations Board judge that the carrier had violated U.S. labor law in Maine and South Carolina when it had employees sign a confidentiality agreement after T-Mobile launched an investigation into employee complaints. A call center employee in Maine who reported sexual harassment by a supervisor was asked to sign an agreement that she wouldn't talk to anyone about the case.

A T-Mobile spokesperson described the letter as "misleading and inaccurate." The company also noted that fewer than 30 of its 48,000 employees have chosen to join the Communications Workers of America, which helped publicize the allegations in Maine.

In 2009 two unions forged an alliance to persuade T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom to allow unionizing at its U.S. subsidiary. Unions have also fought T-Mobile's acquisition of MetroPCS, which was eventually approved, and its merger with AT&T, which was blocked.

For more:
- see this Change to Win Retail Initiatives complaint

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