Americans take for granted their right to free speech. After all, it’s protected by the Bill of Rights, right?
But millions of American workers lose that right when they report to work.
Under the guise of protecting proprietary information, some corporations like T-Mobile require employees to sign confidentiality agreements that forbid workers from talking about certain topics.
T-Mobile’s confidentiality agreement prohibits employees from talking about many things including how much money they are paid.
According to T-Mobile’s employee hand book, If employees talk to others including fellow workers about their salary, they can be disciplined or even fired.
At least that was the case until March 18 when National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge Christine Dibble ruled that T-Mobile’s restrictions on employees talking to each other about their wages was a violation of the National Labor Relations Act because it hampered the workers’ ability to discuss common grievances and to form a union to address those grievances.
“We are happy and relieved,” said Carolina Figueroa, a T-Mobile call center worker from Albuquerque, about the judge’s ruling. “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.”
The judge ordered T-Mobile to stop forbidding workers from talking about their wages and salaries and to stop a number of other restrictions on free speech and free association that hamper union organizing.
Moreover, the company is required to post a written notice about changes to its rules restricting free speech and free association at all work sites.
Josh Coleman found out the hard way about T-Mobile’s rules against talking to fellow employees about conditions on the job. Coleman, a top earner at the T-Mobile call center in Wichita, Kansas, was fired after he began talking to other workers about forming a union.
Coleman said that T-Mobile was aggressive when it came to suppressing talk about a union on the job.
“Through repeated team meetings and written policy, T-Mobile US unlawfully silenced employees and created a culture of fear to stifle communication,” said Coleman. “I hope that now thousands of my T-Mobile US co-workers will know they can come out of the shadows and build the union that so many of us want.”
Coleman and Figueroa are two among thousands of T-Mobile workers who have formed T-Mobile Workers United, or TU, an organization of T-Mobile and Metro PCS employees, who have joined together for a voice and fair treatment on the job.
TU is supported by the Communication Workers of America.
CWA said that Judge Dibble’s ruling protects the free speech and free association rights of all 40,000 T-Mobile workers.
“At issue were illegal corporate nationwide policies that block workers from organizing or even talking to each other about problems at work,” reads a CWA statement about Judge Dibble’s ruling. “Workers throughout the T-Mobile US system were subjected to and effectively silenced by these illegal policies.”
In addition to lifting the company’s ban on discussing wages and salary, the ruling also allows T-Mobile workers to speak freely to the media, talk to a third party about wage and hour complaints, speak freely about the company, and engage in union organizing activity.
The ruling also prohibits T-Mobile from “interfering with, restraining, or coercing its employees in the exercise of their rights” to organize a union.
While most T-Mobile workers do not belong to a union that can bargain collectively with the company, there are a few T-Mobile workers who have won collective bargaining rights.
Adrian Dominguez works at Metro PCS retail store in New York City. Metro PCS is owned by T-Mobile.
Dominguez and his co-workers voted to join CWA in 2013 despite an intense anti-union campaign that included interrogations of individual workers about their union activity in a dimly lit cellar.
“Now that we have a union we aren’t scared to talk about our working conditions at work,” said Dominguez. “I am hopeful that my colleagues across the country will realize that the law protects their rights to discuss the benefits of joining together into a union, now that the judge has found T-Mobile US guilty of preventing workers from talking about their working conditions.”