A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative judge on April 4 ruled that an organization of employees created by T-Mobile, the third largest wireless carrier in the US, is an “employer dominated” organization and is therefore illegal.
Employer dominated employee organizations are also known as company unions, which were outlawed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935.
T-Mobile created the organization called T-Voice in 2015 and described it as the voice of frontline workers.
Members of T-Mobile Workers United (TU) who are organizing a union independent of the company filed charges with the NLRB arguing that T-Voice was the voice of management not frontline workers.
Administrative Judge Sharon Levinson Steckler agreed and ordered T-Mobile to disband T-Voice.
“Whenever an employer unlawfully establishes and maintains a dominated labor organization, that organization must be disestablished (because) (t)he dominated labor organization cannot function as a bargaining representative of employees,” wrote Steckler in her decision.
TU is a national organization of T-Mobile workers organized by the Communication Workers of America (CWA).
Its headquarters are located in Wichita, Kansas and last year its members elected Chief Stewards to represent the interests of workers at seven T-Mobile call centers.
“If T-Mobile wants to address its workers’ concerns and ideas, (TU has) democratically elected representatives ready and willing to meet with management to discuss how we can improve our workplace,” said Angela Melvin, a TU executive board member and T-Mobile customer representative in Wichita.
During the time that it has been active, TU has won some important job improvements including paid paternity leave, protections against sexual harassment, and protections of employee free speech rights.
It is currently engaged in making T-Mobile’s employee metrics, the measures the company uses to judge employee performance, fairer and more consistent.
T-Mobile, owned by the German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom, operates 17 US call centers, where customer service representatives handle inquiries and complaints.
T-Mobile also owns retail outlets, including those managed by MetroPCS, which was purchased by T-Mobile in 2013.
T-Mobile created T-Voice at a time when TU was scoring some victories and growing as an organization, whose ultimate goal is to be union representing T-Mobile’s customer service representatives, technicians, and sales associates.
T-Mobile said that it created T-Voice to address employee and customer problems, that the company refers to as “pain points.”
T-Mobile hand picked T-Voice representatives, provided company space for T-Voice meetings, and paid T-Voice representatives for T-Voice work.
Company managers also sat in on T-Voice meetings.
Despite T-Mobile’s assertion that T-Voice wasn’t a company union, it had all the trappings of one.
Company unions have their roots in a working class tragedy that took place at the turn of the twentieth century.
In 1913 miners at John D. Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel and Iron mines in Ludlow, Colorado went on strike for better pay, better working conditions, and the recognition of their union.
The strike was long and bitter. The Colorado governor at the behest of Rockefeller called in the National Guard to break the strike.
On April 20, 1914, guardsmen using machine guns opened fire on an encampment where thousands of miners and their families lived during the strike.
The soldiers killed 14 miners, 11 of their children, and two women.
The Ludlow massacre at the time became infamous, and Rockefeller looked for other means besides brute force to keep miners from organizing their own unions.
His solution was to create a union affiliated with the company. He called his company’s union the Employees Representation Plan.
Other employers adopted Rockefeller’s soft strategy for deterring workers from organizing their own unions, and company unions began to proliferate.
While company unions gave the appearance of workers having a voice on the job, they had no power that could give them a real voice or to bargain effectively over wages and working conditions.
In 1935 while the US was in the midst of the Great Depression, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was enacted.
The NLRA created labor standards that among other things prohibited company unions because they put the interests of the employers ahead of the interest of the workers who they were supposed to represent.
Judge Steckler ruled that T-Mobile had violated Section 8(a)(2) of the NLRA, and her ruling creates a path for T-Mobile workers to have an independent voice on the job.
TU wants to be that independent voice.
“We’re telling our co-workers: ‘Your voice matters’,” said Melvin. “Across the country, call center representatives, retail associates, and technicians are coming together to support one another and fight for fairness on the job.”