March 6, 2009 Volume 110 Number 5

T-Mobile bosses in Portland interfere with union organizing

“Any union activity must be reported to HR and the [area manager],” said a May 30, 2009 memo, “the same day of the activity, including evening activity.”

Sent to Portland-area managers at cell phone giant T-Mobile, the memo was signed by the company’s human resources manager for the Pacific Northwest and Southwest Regional Divisions. The memo — later used as evidence in a federal unfair labor practice complaint — was a reaction to the arrival of union organizers at T-Mobile retail and call center locations around the United States. Organizers handed out fliers promoting “TU: The Union for T-Mobile Workers,” and its Web site,

TU is a joint project of 700,000-member Communications Workers of America (CWA) and ver.di — the acronym for the 2.4-million-member German union that represents employees of Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s parent company. The company is considered a responsible employer in Germany, where laws and customs enable workers to have a union.

In the United States, on the other hand, no T-Mobile employee has union representation.

The memo, leaked to organizers, offers a glimpse of how companies like T-Mobile stay nonunion.

CWA Senior Director Ed Sabol took issue with it in a July 1 letter to top management at T-Mobile: “It has come to our attention that [a T-Mobile policy] requires employees to report any union activity to their managers. This policy is in clear violation of the rights accorded under the National Labor Relations Act.”

“Please be assured T-Mobile USA has no such policy,” replied T-Mobile Chief People Officer Larry Myers July 24: The memo he wrote was really about employees’ duty to “report violations of T-Mobile USA’s blanket policy prohibiting solicitation by any third party in retail areas during store hours.”

That’s not how workers interpreted it, though, said Jeannie Carpenter, a longtime organizer at CWA Local 7901 in Portland who now works for the Laborers Union.

“The e-mail had a chilling effect,” Carpenter said.

Then a second memo was leaked to CWA organizers, with the headline, “For front-line managers only. Please do not print, post or distribute.” Two pages long — and posted in full here — it tells T-Mobile managers what to do if CWA organizers try to talk with employees. Managers are to:

  • Refresh employees’ understanding of “T-Mobile’s no-solicitation and no-distribution policies.”
  • Remind them that T-Mobile’s e-mail system is for business use only, and may not be used for solicitation on behalf of unions.
  • Tell them they’re not required to sign a union card, that no union can require T-Mobile to provide better wages, and that collective bargaining could result in the loss of certain benefits.
  • Share with them that T-Mobile is growing and promotes from within, whereas union-represented telecom companies are laying people off. [CWA represents workers at AT&T Mobility, the cell phone carrier formerly known as Cingular.]

The memo concludes with a request that managers take part in a web-based training course on “this topic,” (i.e., how to prevent workers from unionizing.)

In October, CWA filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The federal agency investigated, found merit to the complaint, and negotiated a Jan. 5, 2009 out-of-court settlement with T-Mobile. T-Mobile agreed to post a notice in all Portland-area locations for 60 days, affirming that federal law gives workers the right to form a union, and promising that the company will not interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees with respect to these rights.

“More specifically: We will not promulgate, maintain or enforce any rule that asks or requires you to report to us about your co-workers’ support for, or activities on behalf of, the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO or any other labor organization.”

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