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Company Yellow Unions

T-Mobile violated labor law with "T-Voice," others have done the same

Brian Young's picture
Apr 05, 2017

When a company hears that workers are organizing there are a number of different steps they can take.  They could stay neutral and if the employees have enough cards recognize the union. This is always the most inexpensive, righteous and cost effective way to do business, and the most rational as well. They could allow a vote for or against the union that is administered by the National Labor Relation Board (NLRB). They can call a union busting law firm like Jackson Lewis and terrorize their workforce, or they can try and create an employer led “union.” The latter is what T-Mobile tried and the company is now in hot water over this stupid move.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) has been working with T-Mobile employees for a decade to organize.  The campaign has spread beyond just North America.  In Germany, T Mobile’s parent company, Deutsche Telekom, has faced intense pressure from ver.di, the German telecom union, to negotiate with the CWA.  In Germany, these jobs are union, so why shouldn’t the ones in the US be union as well. Instead of working with the CWA, the company went out and created “T-Voice” which was made up of a number company selected “representatives.” The CWA filed a lawsuit saying that “T-Voice” was not a representative of the workers, but of management.  The case went before the NLRB and the board found that T-Voice was in fact illegal.   “Whenever an employer unlawfully establishes and maintains a dominated labor organization, that organization must be disestablished” said Sharon Levinson Steckler, the agency’s administrative law judge, wrote in a decision. The decision found that T-Voice violated the 1935 National Labor Relations Act which bans fake, employer backed unions from being recognized.

Sadly, these company backed or yellow unions are actually a common practice that management uses. In 2012, facing a union campaign from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center created a yellow union as part of their anti-union campaign that involved surveilling, interrogating, threatening employees and firing four who were leading the organizing effort. The NLRB eventually found them guilty of creating a yellow union.

Due to our weak labor laws, companies that take part in these activities often face little recourse.  They are ordered to stop the anti-union activity, but there is no putative fine that is given to punish the company for this illegal behavior.  Instead, the company has just spent the last few years pressuring and removing the pro union forces within their workforce and silencing those employees who do not agree with them. 

At T-Mobile, this is yet another victory for the CWA in their fight against the company’s illegal union busting moves.  Maybe after this loss and one in 2015 over restricting the rights of their employees to talk union, T-Mobile will get with the game and recognize the CWA as the rightful bargaining unit for their employees.

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