CWA: Labor board uses T-Mobile case to OK company unions
Mark Lennihan/AP

WASHINGTON—By unanimous vote from all three Donald Trump appointees, the National Labor Relations Board used a case involving T-Mobile to approve “company unions,” one top tactic the telecom giant is using in its virulent opposition to unionization there.

The Sept. 30 board decision, overruling its own administrative law judge, drew fire from the Communications Workers, who have been campaigning for at least six years to organize T-Mobile’s exploited workers at its 17 U.S. call centers.

“We are dismayed that President Trump’s appointees to the NLRB overruled” Judge Sharon Steckler’s “determination T-Mobile created an illegal company-controlled workplace organization called T-Voice,” CWA said. The three appointees are all Republicans.

“The board has chosen to ignore T-Mobile’s own description of the responsibilities of company-appointed T-Voice representatives for soliciting the concerns of other workers, communicating those concerns to management, and bringing a resolution back to the workers,” CWA added.

“Those activities clearly fall within the National Labor Relations Act’s definition of a labor organization, and T-Mobile’s role in creating and funding T-Voice was clearly unlawful.”

“T-Mobile’s use of this anti-union tactic undermines the real work T-Mobile employees have been doing to join together to improve working conditions. This is another decision from the Trump administration that adds to management’s toolbox of tactics that thwart” labor law’s “actual purpose: Giving workers real power over their working conditions.”

CWA Communications Director Beth Allen agreed when asked if T-Voice was a “yellow dog” company union. “Yes,” she e-mailed back.

NLRB Chair John Ring, whose prior expertise in labor law came as a virulently anti-union aide to the then-ruling GOP majority on Capitol Hill, wrote T-Voice isn’t “a labor organization within the meaning of” labor law.

The big issue in the three-year-old case was whether T-Voice reps, workers named by management and acting at management behest, handled complaints and grievances union reps ordinarily would handle if T-Mobile were unionized. Doing that gave management another lever over the T-Mobile workers.

Management termed its call center customer service reps’ grievances “pain points.” The “pain points” ranged from problems as large as company metrics ordering workers to handle more calls within a specified time and sudden scheduling shifts to as specific as no hot water in the women’s bathroom at the Menaul call center in Albuquerque, N.M.

“Any group may be an employee representation committee if it includes employee participation and deals with conditions of work or other statutory subjects,” Steckler explained. “’Dealing with’ is broader than ‘collective bargaining,’” she noted.

But because it’s broader, Steckler added, the standard of proof for breaking labor law is lower. “The purpose of any group, or its actual dealings – not motive – drives the discussion” of whether bosses break labor law in such cases, she wrote.

“The pattern and practice with T-Voice show employees effectively made proposals” and T-Mobile’s own spreadsheet about the “pain points” also showed management responses. But T-Mobile responded to the workers’ “pain points” through the company-picked worker reps.

That’s the “yellow dog union” aspect Allen referred to, and it’s illegal under the original National Labor Relations Act. But it wasn’t illegal to the Trump-named NLRB members.

They denied T-Voice does what the evidence said it does, and overruled Steckler. Ring and his colleagues admitted CWA was campaigning to organize the T-Mobile call center workers. But they said because CWA had yet to submit an election request, the T-Voice company-named reps’ solicitation of complaints was legal.

“Thus, the record does not warrant an inference T-Voice was undertaken for the purpose of eroding employees’ support for the union or — given the years-long duration of the union’s campaign — that it would reasonably have that tendency,” the board said.

Company unions “obstruct national labor policy by interfering with employee self-organization and free choice of representatives for the purpose of collective bargaining,” the board ruled. “Based on the record as a whole, we found T-Voice is not a labor organization but rather a program” T-Mobile established “to improve its business processes by obtaining feedback from employees. Nothing in” labor law “prohibits employers from adopting such programs.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.