Labor Board outlaws T-Mobile’s company union
The NLRB has ordered the disbanding of a company union set up by T-Mobile. | T-Mobile

WASHINGTON – The National Labor Relations Board majority decided in November that T-Mobile had set up a company union to counter the Communications Workers’ organizing drive among its thousands of call center customer service representatives. And since company unions are illegal under U.S. labor law, a board panel, on a party-line 2-1 vote, ordered T-Mobile’s company union, T-Voice, out of business. “Disestablished” was NLRB’s word.

Needless to say, CWA’s overjoyed. But the ruling also shows the power of unionists at the ballot box, though the union didn’t say so. Five years ago, a Republican Donald Trump-named NLRB majority ruled for T-Mobile and T-Voice. CWA had to sue, and win, in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for D.C., to get that decision overturned.

The judges told the NLRB to follow labor law’s ban on company unions, and this time, the three-member board panel, with a Democratic, Joe Biden-named majority, did.

“T-Mobile created an illegal workplace organization,” CWA said. The board  “ordered T-Mobile to disband the organization and post a notice informing employees of their right to join a union. The company-controlled organization, called T-Voice, was established in 2015, in the midst of worker efforts to form a union at the wireless company.” That struggle continues.

“T-Mobile’s illegal attempt to undermine worker organizing at the company is just one in a string of labor law violations at the company, which merged with Sprint in 2020.

“Throughout the merger process, CWA raised concerns about the impact of the merger on workers and consumers, particularly the effect of store closures on jobs and wages. T-Mobile’s anti-union actions made it impossible for workers to win the protections offered by collective bargaining agreements,” it explained.

And T-Mobile’s company union, T-Voice, also stood in the way, the board panel’s majority, Biden appointees Gwynne Wilcox and David Prouty, said.

“The legislative history of the (National Labor Relations) Act demonstrates Congress sought to proscribe employer domination of both formally structured unions and more loosely organized employee representation committees or plans,” Wilcox and Prouty wrote.

T-Mobile argued a group is a “labor organization,” subject to labor law, only if it sends to management proposals adopted “in any particular way” that shows they’re “group proposals,” the NLRB added. The board majority said a proposal from the union is a proposal from the union, period. But illegal company unions can’t represent workers, the majority said.

But when a firm finances, promotes and even appoints worker “members” of joint labor-management “bargaining” committees—as T-Mobile did for T-Voice–the company union itself isn’t legal.

And until CWA filed its first complaint against T-Voice, before the Trump-named NLRB five years ago, T-Mobile was accepting T-Voice proposals on working conditions as well as customer complaints. T-Mobile then handed down unappealable responses, if any at all.

T-Mobile’s “own agents concede T-Voice expressly solicited  ‘employee’ or ‘Frontline’ points” from the customer service reps—the call center workers CWA is still trying to organize—”over a period of roughly six months, until the instant charges were filed asserting that such conduct was unlawful,” the NLRB majority said. Then it stopped taking complaints about working conditions, and just dealt with customer kvetches, which T-Voice relayed.

“Thus, these solicitations cannot be deemed an ‘isolated error,’” as the board’s Republican dissenter John Ring, claimed. “Instead, the solicitation of responses from the worker side “support a finding of a pattern or practice of dealing sufficient to establish that T-Voice constituted an unlawfully dominated labor organization.”

“Inasmuch as the proposals concerned metrics, training, and equipment for CSRs, they constituted proposals regarding conditions of work. Accordingly, we find T-Voice existed for the purpose, in part, of dealing with” T-Mobile on a mandatory subject of bargaining between unions and bosses. T-Voice “was therefore a labor organization under…the act, which” T-Mobile “dominated and assisted in violation of” the National Labor Relations Act.


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.