Members of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) at the University of Southern California demonstrated at a recent Los Angeles concert by Grammy winners Macklemore & Ryan Lewis urging the duo to break their ties with T-Mobile, which sponsored the January 23 concert at the Belasco.
The students accused T-Mobile, the fourth largest wireless provider in the US, and its CEO John Legere of using “brutal psychological terror” against its call center workers to squeeze more sales out of them. T-Mobile call centers, according to USAS, are “electronic sweatshops” where workers are cajoled, harassed, and humiliated to meet ever-changing and arbitrary production goals.
The students were hoping that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis would take a public stand to support mistreated T-Mobile workers just as they did when they publicly condemned the racist murder of Trayvon Martin and just as they have done to support gay rights.
In addition to the USAS action in Los Angeles, MoveOn.org is circulating a petition urging the two entertainers to break up with T-Mobile. So far, more than 3,400 people have signed it.
“Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have used their celebrity status to raise the conversation about important injustices,” reads MoveOn’s explanation of the petition. “They can do it again and send a message to T-Mobile that they won’t work with a company that treats its workers this badly.”
How badly does T-Mobile treat its workers?
Steve Early in his most recent book Save Our Unions reports that T-Mobile workers labor under high levels of job insecurity and stress and are subjected to intimidation and public humiliation.
A report in the German magazine Der Spiegel gives one example:
In one (T-Mobile) call center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, employees who didn’t perform to standard were made to spend hours wearing a dunce’s cap as a highly visible sign of their supposed failure. One 41-year-old employee described how the hat made its way from desk to desk, eventually landing with her. She had to wear it several times, in fact, and said she had never in her life felt so “small and ridiculous.”
One of the unique features of TU is that it has established close ties with the German service workers union ver. di. T-Mobile is owned by Deutsche Telekom, whose workers are members of ver. di.
Ver. di has urged Deutsche Telekom to treat its American workers the same as its German workers, which would mean recognizing and bargaining with its workers’ union.
So far, the German company has not extended its German model of labor relations to the US.
In fact, its American arm, T-Mobile has been hostile to its workers organizing efforts and has illegally fired and disciplined workers who speak out in favor of unionization.
At least, that’s what the National Labor Relations Board General Counsel concluded in November when he announced that he would prosecute T-Mobile for illegally firing Josh Coleman and illegally disciplining Ellen Bracken for supporting the union campaign at T-Mobile’s Wichita call center where Coleman formerly worked and Bracken still does.
Before Coleman was fired, he was a top performer who received promotions, awards, and written commendations for his work.
But the kudos stopped when he started urging fellow employees to unionize.
“I was an active and vocal supporter of having a union and getting a voice on the job for my co-workers and myself,” said Coleman. “I was targeted and ultimately fired for this activity, despite the fact that none of the allegations made against me were true.”
The hearing date for Coleman’s and Bracken’s case has not been set.
T-Mobile’s bullying tactics may have been intended to inflate performance measures to attract a buyer.
Deutsche Telekom has been looking to sell T-Mobile so that it can exit the US market, and in December, a report in the Wall Street Journal said that Sprint, the US’s third leading wireless provider, is considering buying T-Mobile.
That possible merger is still in the talking stages, but both sides seem serious about proceeding.
The sponsorship of the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis concert was intended to enhance the T-Mobile brand among young mobile device users, which would also make its sale more attractive.
Just as USAS asked Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to break up with T-Mobile, it is also is asking students and their universities to break up with the company.
In an announcement about its nationwide Justice for T-Mobile Workers effort, USAS said, “We’re launching campaigns calling for an end to our universities’ ties with T-Mobile unless the company does the right thing and agrees to allow its workers to form a union free of management intimidation and puts an end to (its) . . . humiliating practices in its call centers.”
USAS said that it is hoping for the same success it had with its campaign to end university relationships with sweatshops making university logo apparel.