T-Mobile USA to Butt Heads With NLRB Over Union Complaints

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an independent federal agency that seeks to protect employees’ rights, has consolidated cases filed against T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS Communications, in complaints that allege the mobile-phone giant has unlawfully discharged workers who engaged in union practices and issued rules for employees that are overbroad and discriminatory.

Three cases filed against T-Mobile in Albuquerque, N.M., and Wichita, Kan., have been grouped with a case filed against MetroPCS in New York, under an order that NLRB issued on March 31, 2014.

NLRB has accused T-Mobile of engaging in unfair labor practices in violation of the National Relations Labor Act. The cases stem from complaints filed by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the largest communications union in the United States.

The federal agency’s move to consolidate the cases is a procedural one that involves no findings, T-Mobile spokeswoman Ann Marshall said.

“T-Mobile looks forward to presenting all the evidence before an administrative law judge,” she said.

A hearing is underway in Wichita, Kan., according to CWA. Marshall confirmed the hearing began but said it was delayed until May due to weather.

When the Kansas proceeding is completed, the judge will travel to Albuquerque to hear similar complaints against T-Mobile, CWA said.

In Wichita, NLRB is seeking to prove that T-Mobile illegally fired a call-center employee, Joshua Coleman, and unlawfully disciplined another worker, Ellen Brackeen, due to their union activities.

Coleman worked at the call center for three-and-a-half years and was a “top performer” who achieved promotions and performance awards before T-Mobile fired him in May 2013 for his union activities, according to CWA. Upon returning to the call center to retrieve his personal belongings, Coleman learned that pages in his notebook had been removed that related to his union activities and those of his co-workers, the union said last year.

Marshall said she could not comment on the cases because they are pending.

NLRB did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the complaints.

In a press release last November announcing NLRB’s plans to prosecute the mobile carrier, CWA claimed the management of Deutsche Telekom-owned T-Mobile USA “has stepped up a campaign of fear, intimidation and harassment against U.S. workers who want the same union voice” as Deutsche Telekom employees. The German labor union Verdi represents employees of Deutsche Telekom.

NLRB’s March 31, 2014, order details charges against T-Mobile for maintaining “overly broad and discriminatory” rules in its employee handbook, confidentiality agreements and other materials.

The federal agency also contends T-Mobile managers in Albuquerque have discouraged workers from engaging in union activities partly through interrogation and threats in violation of the National Relations Labor Act. The order also states some employees were discharged or suspended for their union activities.

Bellevue, Wash.-based T-Mobile, the nation’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, has very little union representation. According to T-Mobile’s annual filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, fewer than 20 of its roughly 40,000 full-time and part-time employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Chuck Porcari, a spokesman for CWA, said some MetroPCS employees in Harlem, N.Y., have union representation, and about a dozen T-Mobile technicians in Connecticut are union workers as well.

Last year, T-Mobile USA completed its acquisition of MetroPCS, merging companies that had 2012 revenues totaling $24.8 billion and 43 million subscribers as of March 31, 2013.

As of Dec. 31, 2013, T-Mobile provided service to roughly 47 million customers, with 69 percent of revenues deriving from postpaid customers, 26 percent from prepaid customers, and 5 percent from wholesale customers, roaming and other services. The three-month period ending the year marked T-Mobile’s third consecutive quarter of more than 1 million customer additions, according to an investor presentation.

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