Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile employees to jointly organize under CWA’s ‘Wireless Workers United’ group

CWA's “Wireless Workers United” organized a rally in Orlando. Image: Communication Workers of America

The Communication Workers of America launched a new association called “Wireless Workers United” that it said stands as “the first-ever national network of union and non-union workers organizing to protect good jobs and quality customer service.” The association aims to jointly organize wireless employees from Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.

“Wireless Workers United is a first-of-its-kind effort to protect good jobs and quality customer service across the entire wireless industry," Dennis Trainor, vice president of CWA District 1, said in a statement to FierceWireless. "We’re not just organizing at one division of a company, or even one company—we’re uniting thousands of union and non-union workers at the industry’s largest carriers. If workers stand together, we can reverse some of disturbing trends that have plagued the wireless industry in recent years, such as cuts to pay and benefits, offshoring and outsourcing.”

The effort is the latest in a long line of announcements by CWA geared toward providing better salaries and benefits to unionized employees at some of the nation’s largest telecommunications companies.

CWA said wireless workers from Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile will rally together in front of AT&T and Verizon stores in downtown Orlando as part of the launch of the new group.

A CWA spokesperson explained that the new group represents the first time the CWA has sought to jointly organize wireless employees at different companies—previously, CWA worked to represent employees at specific telecommunications companies like CenturyLink and AT&T.

The spokesperson added that Sprint workers are included in the effort, though the company wasn't named in the release announcing the new organization. The spokesperson also said that "hundreds of workers" have already signed up to the new group.

"It's encouraging to see that the union is using an organization effort as an opportunity to call for great customer service," said Verizon spokesperson Richard Young in response to questions from FierceWireless. "The vast majority of Verizon employees strongly feel that Verizon is a great place to work -- an employer that offers excellent service to our customers and competitive wages, benefits and growth opportunities for our employees. And we do not expect that to change."

An AT&T spokesperson offered similar comments: "Our employees are very well-compensated, and they will continue to be. In all of our contract negotiations, we’re committed to working together with the union to reach fair agreements that will allow us to continue to provide solid union careers with excellent wages and benefits, while maintaining the flexibility we need to differentiate ourselves through world-class customer service," said AT&T's Marty Richter in a statement to FierceWireless: "Earlier this month, CWA-represented employees in our largest Mobility contract voted overwhelmingly to approve a new four year contract that was praised by union leadership as 'groundbreaking.'"

Representatives from T-Mobile did not immediately respond to question from FierceWireless about the new organization.

Unions represent a significant portion of employees from AT&T and Verizon specifically. In filings last year with the Securities and Exchange Commission, AT&T disclosed that fully 48% of its employees were represented by the Communications Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or other unions. And Verizon said that 23% of its workforce was unionized.

In contrast, T-Mobile said that in 2014 and 2015 just 30 employees were covered by a collective bargaining agreement, but that figure apparently changed to zero at the end of 2016. That’s roughly the same time period in which T-Mobile created its T-Voice worker group, which was subsequently targeted by a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge.

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

In its announcement today, “Wireless Workers United” said it laid out a “comprehensive vision for the future of the wireless industry” that covered topics including:

  • Wages, commissions and benefits. The association said it would work toward goals including improved job security, clear commission structures and tuition reimbursements, among other items.
  • The ability to “organize for better conditions, fair policies and flexibility in scheduling.”
  • Training, including “the ability to provide feedback to the management team.”
  • Honesty and integrity in customer relations. Specifically the group said that “workers demand that customer care always be separate from sales, technical support, and billing issues to ensure the best outcomes for customers.”

“There are more than 130,000 frontline wireless workers at the three major carriers. Imagine what we’ll achieve together when we stand together,” said Greg Caron, a T-Mobile worker from Colorado Springs, in a statement from the new association.

Of course, to be clear, the CWA is continuing its work to drum up attention for its efforts, and the “Wireless Workers United” likely falls directly into that public-relations work. Indeed, just last week the organization noted that AT&T wireless workers in the Midwest are picketing in select locations across the country in order to obtain better conditions for unionized workers there.

Article updated Jan. 30 with additional information and commentary.