T-Mobile worker rights violations bring attention to Deutsche Telekom

Two European investment management companies have expressed concern about the way that T-Mobile, the US’ third largest wireless carrier company, treats its US workers to Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s German owner.

Reuters reports that APG Asset Management, which manages the Dutch government’s pension assets, and Norges Bank Investment Manager, which manages the Norwegian Pension Fund Global, told Deutsche Telekom that they were concerned about recent rulings by two US judges who ruled that T-Mobile had broken US labor laws.

“Human capital management is very important to us,” said APG sustainability specialist Anna Pot to Reuters.  “It is an important indicator of the quality of management.”

APG also told Reuters that it is in the process of examining its investment in Deutsche Telekom, one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies.

According to Reuters, APG and Norges are two of Deutsche Telecom’s major investors.

APG’s and Norges’ expressions of concern comes on the heels of another complaint about the way that T-Mobile treats its workers.

Fourteen members of the US Congress on December 18 sent a letter to their German counterparts urging German lawmakers to investigate why Deutsche Telekom allows its US subsidiary to continue to violate workers’ rights.

The German government owns a 30 percent share in Deutsche Telekom.

According to the letter T-Mobile’s record on workers’ rights violation is worse than Walmart’s.

The recent interest in workers’ rights at T-Mobile is the result of an organizing campaign by the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and its union of T-Mobile workers called T-Mobile Workers United.

T-Mobile Workers United has been waging a campaign for better pay and improved working conditions, but T-Mobile policies have made it difficult for workers to take collective action.

CWA and T-Mobile United filed charges about these policies with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and in March, an NLRB administrative judge ruled that T-Mobile was guilty of 11 counts of violating US labor laws.

Among other things, Judge Christine Dibble ruled that T-Mobile’s policy that subject workers to disciplinary actions including being fired for talking to each other about their wages or complaining to each other about working conditions is illegal.

According to Judge Dibble, T-Mobile’s policies “would chill employees in the exercise of their…rights” and restricts worker rights “to engage in protected concerted activities, including unionizing efforts.”

Despite the ruling, T-Mobile is still trying to control communications among its workers about wages and working conditions.

In July, a T-Mobile worker posted a petition on Change.org seeking to change in a new T-Mobile compensation policy that hurts call center workers’ pay.

After posting the petition, he used e-mail to inform other workers about the petition, which is his legal right to do.

Within 15 minutes of posting his e-mail, he posted another e-mail saying that he was taking down the petition in order to comply with company policy.

After his second e-mail, T-Mobile Executive Vice President John Freier informed employees by e-mail that the employee’s e-mail wasn’t “an appropriate way to solicit feedback,” suggesting that despite the judge’s ruling, the company would continue to restrict workers’ speech and their ability to take collective action.

During the night of the same day, Freier sent another e-mail clarifying his earlier e-mail. The clarification, which said that as required by law employees could communicate with each other about pay, was either made to cover his tracks for continuing to enforce an illegal company policy or because he had been unaware of the judge’s ruling.

In either case, the intended effect was accomplished–the petition was withdrawn and collective action was squelched.

In another case, a South Carolina female call center worker filed a sexual harassment complaint with the company’s human relations department against her supervisor.

She was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement and told that she could be fired if she discussed the complaint with anyone else. She was also told to report back to work under the same supervisor.

Because she couldn’t tolerate working under the supervisor who harassed her, she quit.

Later with the help of the union, she filed a charge with the NLRB, and in August, an administrative law judge ruled that T-Mobile’s non-disclosure agreement and threat of firing was illegal.

According to the US lawmakers’ letter, these judgments against T-Mobile demonstrate a willful pattern of unlawful activity against the rights of T-Mobile workers.

In their letter, the US lawmakers said that T-Mobile appears to treat its US workers “as exploitable,” which makes Deutsche Telekom a party to actions that wouldn’t be tolerated in Germany.

Deutsche Telekom’s “double standard is disturbing and unacceptable,” wrote the lawmakers.

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