U.S. & German unions unite to battle T-Mobile

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The Communications Workers of America and its German counterpart have teamed up to battle wireless carrier T-Mobile's union-busting efforts in the U.S.

CWA President Larry Cohen announced the "global union" partnership last week at a Washington news conference. He charged T-Mobile's parent company, Deutsche Telekom, with being two-faced in how it deals with workers here and in Germany.

Since T-Mobile entered the U.S. market nine years ago, it has created an atmosphere of fear and repression for workers, CWA and T-Mobile workers say. A study by John Logan director of labor studies at San Francisco State University, has documented T-Mobile USA's record of harassment and intimidation of workers who want a union.

In Germany, which has strong labor laws, Deutsche Telekom "respects the right of its workers to union representation and collective bargaining," the unions say. "When Deutsche Telekom took over T-Mobile USA (then VoiceStream) in 2000, it was expected that the company would bring with it the same enlightened labor practices that it currently practices in Germany and other parts of Europe. However, in the U.S., T-Mobile has fiercely opposed any union activity among their 36,000 workers."

Logan's study concludes that T-Mobile's U.S. behavior violates the company's own code of conduct and policies in ways that would be completely unacceptable in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

"We're saying to multinational companies, in this case, Deutsche Telekom, that we're tired of the face of cooperation in Germany and the club of intolerance in the United States," Cohen said.

The new alliance between CWA and the German telecommunications union, ver.di, is called TU - a union for T-Mobile workers. Workers who join TU will be affiliated with both CWA and ver.di. It will provide workers the opportunity to discuss workplace issues, share grievances, and interact with both U.S. and German union members as the first step in bringing a union to the U.S workplaces, the TU web site says. Cohen said CWA would work with union members and telecom workers in the U.S., while ver.di would be responsible for relations with T-Mobile officials in Germany.

Deutsche Telekom workers in Germany won a pay increase of 5.5 percent through collective bargaining, retroactive to June 1, 2008, the TU web site points out. But T-Mobile workers in the U.S., with no union representation, cannot bargain collectively with the company. In January this year, TU says, T-Mobile USA's CEO sent an e-mail to employees informing them that there would be no annual pay increase. He urged them to "stay scrappy" and to be "lean and mean while growing the business" during the economic crisis.

Jenn Roberts, a CWA member and former T-Mobile employee, says on the web site, "The workers at T-Mobile need to be fairly educated on all their options. We heard all negative stuff when we used to be called into ‘focus group' meetings with the call center director. I didn't realize what benefits you could have with a union until I actually got them and saw them and realized I was no longer going to be taken advantage of and was instead being treated with respect."

At the news conference announcing the partnership, Cohen was joined by Ado Wilhelm, a ver.di officer who is an employee representative on the supervisory board of T-Mobile in Germany. Wilhelm said his union would use its relationship with the company to help support workers' unionizing efforts in the U.S.

Also joining them was "X," a T-Mobile USA employee disguised with a fake beard and mustache, sunglasses and a baseball cap. He said he wore the disguise because he was afraid of retribution from T-Mobile for speaking publicly in support of unionizing.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ksiniy/ / CC BY 2.0

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