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T-Mobile Faces Labor Investigation After Employees Complain

<> on April 12, 2013 in New York City.<> on April 12, 2013 in New York City.
Someone walks by a T-Mobile store.Photograph by Spencer Platt via Getty Images

An internal program T-Mobile set up to air gripes from call center employees called “T-Voice” is an illegal management-controlled union, argued some of the telco’s workers in a filing with the National Labor Relations Board. But T-Mobile insists the program is aimed at improving customer service, not labor relations.

The NLRB is investigating the charge, which was filed on February 23, as it is required to do on all the roughly 20,000 complaints it receives annually, a spokeswoman confirmed. Most charges are withdrawn, dismissed, or settled—only about 6% result in a formal complaint being issued against an employer and a hearing before an NLRB Administrative Law Judge.

Under federal law dating back to the 1930s, employers are prohibited from establishing company dominated unions for their workers. The aim is to prevent companies from confusing workers who may be interested in forming an independent union.

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“A company funded and run union is illegal,” says a spokeswoman for the Communications Workers of America union, which submitted the filing to the NLRB.

Employees in T-Mobile call centers in Wichita, Kansas, Springfield, Missouri and Albuquerque, New Mexico raised issues with the T-Voice program, according to the filing.

“Under the T-Voice program, T-Mobile designates two or more frontline employees at each facility to serve as T-Voice representatives for a six-month period,” the filing notes. “These representatives solicit and gather ‘pain points’ from frontline employees, ‘represent’ those employees in discussions with management regarding those ‘pain points,’ and communicate management’s response back to the frontline employees.”

The points raised can cover both “their own concerns about working conditions and customers’ concerns.”

T-Mobile (TMUS) declined to comment specifically on the charge. The T-Voice program started a little over a year ago as a way for employees to help solve customer pain points, the company said.

The CWA has been trying to unionize T-Mobile’s 50,000 workers for many years. Thus far, CWA’s efforts have largely been unsuccessful as only a few dozen T-Mobile employees in New York and Connecticut have elected to join. The union is also currently engaged in a strike against T-Mobile’s larger competitor, Verizon Communications (VZ), which started on April 13.

The T-Voice controversy is not the first time T-Mobile has had trouble with labor relations. Last year, it lost several cases before the NLRB concerning employees who wanted to discuss starting a union, employees who wanted to discuss internal misconduct, and an employee who was fired for reporting safety concerns.

The T-Voice NLRB filing was earlier reported by Bloomberg.