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Regulatory/Politics

T-Mobile may continue the fight over its employees' T-Voice group

T-Mobile suggested that it might appeal a new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that found the company violated labor laws.

"We completely disagree with the NLRB's decision and are disappointed in the outcome of this latest ruling," the company said in a statement to Light Reading. "We're considering next steps, including appealing."

If T-Mobile does pursue a reversal of the agency's ruling, the move would further drag out a battle that has been under debate for roughly seven years now. At issue is whether T-Mobile's "T-Voice" feedback program for its customer service employees qualifies as a labor organization under federal laws. The operator created the program in 2015, but the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union filed a charge with the NLRB in 2016 arguing that T-Voice was actually an attempt by T-Mobile to block its employees from unionizing.

"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," CWA wrote in a statement this week following the NLRB's decision. The CWA noted that an NLRB administrative law judge initially ruled in the union's favor in 2017, but that the agency subsequently overruled that judge. The CWA then asked the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the decision, the court granted the review, and then it sent the case back to the NLRB for reconsideration.

This week the NLRB released the results of its reconsideration, finding again that T-Voice is a labor organization and that T-Mobile unlawfully dominated and assisted the program.

"We continue to believe that T-Voice is not only lawful but also mission critical," T-Mobile wrote in a statement. "Our employees who are closest to our customers consistently share that they love that T-Voice empowers them with the opportunity to solve pain points and we believe they'd be very disappointed to lose it. We will fight to maintain it."

Importantly, the NLRB was divided in its ruling by a 2-1 margin. John Ring – appointed to the agency by former President Trump in 2018 – wrote in his dissent that "T-Voice was intended to serve as a lawful employee feedback program, and it operated that way in practice with at most a few rare and isolated exceptions."

Ring continued: "The record as a whole simply does not support the notion that T-Voice robbed employees of their right to select representatives of their own choosing."

The two NLRB board members who voted against T-Mobile – David Prouty and Gwynne Wilcox – were appointed by President Biden.

A broader issue

The development comes at an important time for unions and technology companies. Although unions have long been a factor in the telecommunications industry, the topic of unionized representation has gained attention in recent months due to rising interest in unions among employees at big technology companies. There's also a push to unionize among some cell tower operators.

Further, President Biden is helping to shine a light on the topic with pro-union messaging and meetings with employees attempting to form unions.

According to the NLRB, union representation petitions filed at the agency increased 57%, from 748 to 1,174, during the first half of 2021.

Roughly 37% of AT&T's employees are unionized, while around 24% of Verizon's employees are. T-Mobile makes no mention of any unionized employees in its recent SEC filings.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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