The Communications Workers of America has been attempting to unionize T-Mobile for over 10 years.

T-Mobile is the U.S. subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, the German telecoms giant, and has now become the third-largest wireless carrier in the United States. The CWA has managed to win just two union contracts which cover 30 out of approximately 45,000 T-Mobile employees, writes Josh Edelson for Bloomberg.

T-Mobile Allegedly Forms Fake Union TO Fight Real Union

Communications Workers of America files complaint against T-Mobile

CWA alleges that T-Mobile has formed a company-controlled union in order to bleed support from their independent one. This practice has been illegal in the U.S. since 1935.

“It’s a little bit flattering,” says CWA organizer Josh Coleman, a former employee. “We have momentum; the company’s trying to stop it by copying our union.” Basically, what happened as we noted in the title T-Mobile Allegedly Forms Fake Union TO Fight Real Union.

According to CWA, T-Mobile senior vice president Brian Brueckman sent an email to employees in June 2015, announcing the launch of T-Voice. The initiative told staff that it was allegedly “another big step to ensure your voice is heard.”

T-Voice would be made up of employee “representatives” selected by the company every six months. “T-Voice is your voice,” Brueckman wrote in his e-mail, one of many which CWA says violate federal labor rules.

A T-Mobile manager in Missouri told Bloomberg that T-Voice was “a direct line for Frontline feedback to senior leadership” and said that T-Voice representatives were responsible for communicating “pain points” from workers to management and “tracking and communicating resolution back to the team.”

T-Voice allegedly breaks Congress rules

However CWA representatives are up in arms about what they see as illegal tactics from the company.

“They’re funding this sham union, and it is totally and absolutely illegal, and it is totally and absolutely nonsense,” says CWA President Chris Shelton. “If they want to know what the problems are at T-Mobile, they could meet with folks who are elected by the people of T-Mobile and not by the CEO.”

CWA says that managers tell employees that they don’t need a union due to the existence of T-Voice. “I find it insulting,” says CWA supporter Angela Melvin, a customer service representative in Wichita. “Because again it’s T-Mobile telling you what’s best for you.”

CWA has filed proceedings and they are being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). They allege that T-Mobile violates rules set up by Congress during the New Deal era.

Unions call for ban to remain in place

In those days it was common for companies to set up fake unions to drain support from real unions.

“The idea was to take the wind out of the sails of employees who wanted a free union: ‘Here, we’ve got a system of representation for you,’?” says William Gould IV, a Stanford law professor emeritus and chairman of the NLRB under President Clinton. In the time since, “company union” cases have become rare.

However some business groups have recently been calling for a loosening of the ban. They say that it can prevent good-faith efforts from management to get feedback from employees.

“We don’t want to have a situation where employees and employer aren’t talking to each other,” says attorney Marshall Babson, a former NLRB member who now represents employers. “Successful businesses that are communicating with their employees on a regular basis feel that in some senses they are walking on a tightrope on this.”

But CWA says the ban should remain, and holds up T-Voice as an example for its case.

“This is the equivalent of allowing Mexico to choose the U.S. trade representative,” says Jody Calemine, CWA’s general counsel. “I think it’s common sense that that is a conflict of interest.”