Union ramps up efforts to organize T-Mobile

AP News
Posted: Nov 18, 2009 2:00 PM

Union officials in the United States are teaming up with their German counterparts in a bid to organize workers at wireless carrier T-Mobile USA.

Leaders at the Communications Workers of America said Wednesday that the new arrangement with German union ver.di will help show a "double standard" between how European companies treat workers in their home countries compared with the U.S.

T-Mobile's parent company Deutsche Telekom AG is known as a union-friendly model in Germany, where cooperation with unions is encouraged by labor laws. But CWA president Larry Cohen says T-Mobile USA has worked aggressively against union organizing since it entered the U.S. market nine years ago.

"We're tired of the two faces," Cohen said at a news conference announcing the joint union, to be called TUnion.

Cohen said the new "global union" would highlight the contrast between "the smiling face" that Deutsche Telekom presents to workers in Germany and "the club of intolerance" in the U.S.

Peter Dobrow, a spokesman for Bellevue, Wash.-based T-Mobile USA, said employee satisfaction surveys show more than 70 percent of the company's 40,000 workers are "very satisfied" with their jobs.

"Despite the Communication Workers of America's periodic organizing efforts for more than nine years, no group of T-Mobile employees has ever chosen to be represented by a union," Dobrow said. "While our company is always striving to find ways to improve, year after year, employees continue to view T-Mobile as a good place to work where they have no need for, or interest in, a union."

Under the new TUnion, Cohen said CWA would continue to 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.

Ado Wilhelm, a ver.di officer and employee representative on the supervisory board of T-Mobile in Germany, said his union would use its relationship with the company to help support unionizing efforts in the U.S.

CWA represents about 700,000 communications workers nationwide and is trying to expand it ranks into the growing wireless sector. It currently has about 42,000 members in AT&T Mobility, but has struggled to penetrate other wireless carriers.

At the news conference, CWA presented a T-Mobile USA employee wearing a fake beard, false mustache, sunglasses and a baseball cap. The employee said he feared to show his face because he would face retribution from T-Mobile for speaking out in support of unionizing.

Dobrow said the U.S. company "respects the rights of unions to exist and recognizes and respects employees' rights to organize, or to refrain from organizing."