Empowerment for Wireless Industry Workers: A Shared Vision Across Companies and Across the World

By Maritza Lara of Laredo, TX

Last month, I had the pleasure of joining dozens of other telecom workers from T-Mobile, AT&T Mobility (ATTM), Verizon Wireless (VZW), and other companies across the world in a TeleTown Hall. We talked about our common challenges and strategies for building a better future for the wireless industry.

The call was hosted by Tim Dubnau of the CWA. Tim introduced workers who shared their stories of organizing together at work. Tim said, “This is truly an international, industry-wide movement. Making connections with other workers, whether they’re across the street, across the country, or across the world, is what will help us in in the end.”

We heard some amazing stories on the call, and I got to tell mine too. I’ve been active in T-Mobile Workers United, or TU, for about a year and I’ve been working at T-Mobile in Laredo, Texas, for 8 years. I was lucky to be part of a group of workers from T-Mobile, VZW, and ATTM who got together last fall to write a set of principles for our whole industry. We all want good wages, fair metrics, and an end to pressure to do unethical things on the job. The Statement of Principles we came up with is our shared vision for an industry with integrity that treats workers with respect.

We can all make a difference if we stick together, so now I’m urging my coworkers to sign on to the Statement of Principles. I see workers every day who talk about wanting to stand up to their bosses and fight for fairness at work, and I tell them that we won’t see improvements without a union. All the changes for the better we’ve experienced are because of joining together with one voice like the TU members I know in Wichita, Kansas, right now. They’re showing a lot of courage by regularly tabling in their company lunch room, and that commitment is going to pay off.

Getting Things Done at VZW

Other folks we heard from on the call included Latasha, a Verizon Wireless customer service rep in Irving, Texas. She talked about finding out that her paychecks and those of her coworkers were hundreds of dollars short. The company still owes her almost a thousand dollars in back pay. Latasha and her coworkers took action by wearing stickers that said simply, “Pay me what you owe me!” She said standing up to management made them feel “proud and powerful. When we stick together we have power.” The company is now taking action to fix the paychecks for everyone.

Latasha believes in the Statement of Principles because it’s also about empowering us all. She laughed at the fact that management at VZW is trying to discourage workers by saying that the Statement is a legal contract that will require employees to suddenly pay dues to the union. Of course, that’s not true. She says those scare tactics aren’t working and her VZW brothers and sisters are signing up.

ATTM’s Brigade to Organize Industry-Wide

Sedgerick Lee came on our call from AT&T Mobility in Mississippi. The ATTM folks are already organized in a big way, with 45,000 members in CWA. They recently bargained a great new contract with higher wages and more job security. Sedgerick talked about mobilizing to win that contract, and said that he wants more workers across the industry to be organized because it will raise up the standards everywhere: “We’ve got to get as many workers as we can on board and understanding the real power of working together.”

Sedgerick and more than 100 other ATTM workers are now part of a Wireless Organizing Brigade, volunteering to talk with VZW and T-Mobile workers about the union, clearing up misinformation, and helping workers join together to address big issues like getting back pay and stopping sexual harassment and bullying on the job.

International Support: Power Across Borders

We also heard from workers in other countries who want to help and support us in our fight to improve conditions at T-Mobile. Nadine, a member of the German union ver.di as well as Jenny a representative of ver.di, talked about how much power workers at Deutsche Telekom (DT) have in Germany. DT owns T-Mobile, so it was pretty shocking to hear what a double standard they have—treating their German workers with respect but supporting anti-union, anti-worker practices in the U.S. at T-Mobile. Jenny made it clear when she said, “We have better working conditions in Germany because we have a strong union and because we have jointly fought for it, including in many strikes. Not because DT is ‘nicer’ than T-Mobile!”

According to Jane Siwa, a union activist in the Philippines with a group called BIEN, the conditions there are really difficult for call center workers. Unfortunately, Jane’s connection was really bad so she shared her remarks with us after the call. She says that call center workers in the Philippines “face many issues at work. These include near-poverty wages which are continuously going down due to the country’s regionalized wage system and intensified competition between BPO companies.” They often don’t get meal breaks, are forced into mandatory overtime, and have unreachable metrics. They have no job security. Jane shared that “Workers who try to organize face harassment and discrimination from management.”

But despite the extreme pressures, they’re still organizing thousands of people because they know this is a global industry. Jane and the workers in the Philippines know they need to build power across companies and across borders in order to make real improvements in all our lives.

The last person who spoke on the call was Alke Boessinger, who represents telecom unions all over the world in an organization called UNI ICTS. Like all of us who worked on the Statement of Principles, Alke believes that the only way forward is with an industry-wide approach that links workers at many different companies. Alke and CWA President Chris Shelton are both going to talk to union members from around the world at a major meeting in England next month. They hope to bring many more workers on board to support our efforts at TU, VZW, and elsewhere.

I think you can see how strong and widespread our movement is becoming. We’ve got momentum on our side, and it’s clear that we can win when we take action together. So I would urge everyone to first go to wirelessworkersunited.org and sign on to the Statement of Principles.

And then I’d also urge you to talk with your coworkers about making a stand at work like Latasha and Sedgerick and so many TU workers have done, fighting for the improvements we all want and need. Reach out to TU organizers for help. Together we’re going to make great things happen!