Jul 10, 2014
There are two sides to T-Mobile.
On one side in Germany, it's the American subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, a German communications company that respects its workers and has enshrined collective bargaining rights in its social charter. Deutsche Telekom has endorsed the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, also commonly known as the "Ruggie Principles."
On the other side in the United States, Deutsche Telekom fosters an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in its U.S. workplaces – conditions unacceptable in Germany. T-Mobile workers who want to form a union are harassed, bullied and put under surveillance. And given the chance to support a shareholder proposal urging T-Mobile to disclose how it assesses human rights risks in its operations and supply chain, Deutsche Telekom, which owns 67 percent of T-Mobile's outstanding shares, voted in opposition.
Lothar Schröder, leader of the German union ver.di, exposed this two-faced corporate governance two years ago in a presentation to the Deutsche Telekom board of directors. He pointed out that U.S. T-Mobile managers often "pressure workers to pursue dishonest sales strategies" and "sometimes managers make unauthorized charges after the sale." Schröder also told the board that some call center workers have been forced to wear dunce caps for not meeting "unreachable expectations" and write essays about their failures at work.
T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom did nothing.
But workers are at last getting justice. Recently the National Labor Relations Board has taken the extraordinary step of consolidating the cases brought against the company. Consolidation will allow the NLRB to issue more effective remedies to finally stop T-Mobile's outrageous conduct, as it requires one hearing officer to hear all complaints, witnesses and evidence. The company will need to defend its systemic anti-union behavior in one proceeding, and the NLRB will be able to order broad relief for employees at every T-Mobile store and call center.
In a few months, the NLRB will hold a hearing in Albuquerque, N.M., where at least two T-Mobile workers were unjustly disciplined after being identified as union activists, then fired after they made their support public.