T-Mobile’s “Electronic Sweatshops”
Across the US, cell phone company T-Mobile operates call centers that have been described by workers as “electronic sweatshops.” Workers face an enormous amount of stress and even their bathroom breaks are strictly monitored. These workers have reported abnormally high amounts of anxiety attacks, ulcers, and depression as a result. The environment is so stressful that many workers have required medical care while others have taken unpaid leave to heal. Doctors in one town have seen so many T-Mobile workers for stress and anxiety that they call it the “T-Mobile disease.”
T-Mobile workers face unrealistic sales expectations, constantly changing performance metrics, and the fear that comes with an utter lack of job security. To punish workers who are not able to meet impossible sales goals, T-Mobile uses disciplinary measures that border on harassment: One group of workers even reported that they were forced to wear dunce caps if they didn’t meet expectations. This treatment is the norm for T-Mobile workers in the US.
There are more than 30,000 T-Mobile call center reps, retail associates, and technicians in the US. In order to have a voice at work, fair treatment and job security, the workers have been fighting to join a union since the parent company, Deutsche Telekom, entered the US market in 2001. Yet workers have been met with tremendous hostility from T-Mobile US management. Without a doubt, the company uses any means necessary to prevent employees from having collective power.
In September 2013, eight T-Mobile employees organized a union in a Harlem MetroPCS retail store (MetroPCS was recently acquired by T-Mobile). One worker, Stephen, put it simply: “Our message is, we should be treated fairly, and with respect and dignity.” But even against eight employees, T-Mobile launched a vicious anti-union campaign. In an attempt to force the workers to change their minds, T-Mobile held more than 30 mandatory, one-on-one meetings with workers in the store basement. Incredibly, the CEO of T-Mobile US, John Legere, even flew in from Seattle to try and persuade the workers himself.
The Harlem case is emblematic of what T-Mobile workers have faced for years: excessive bullying, harassment, and stress on the job — and a company that will resort to extraordinary measures to prevent workers from having any method to change those working conditions.
What Students Can Do
As students, we have unique leverage over T-Mobile through our universities’ institutional power. For wireless companies, college students are a critical demographic, and they spend enormous amounts of money marketing and selling products and services to us. But more importantly, they also invest in contracts with our universities, building cell towers on campus, sponsoring sporting events, and offering discounted service — all in an effort to attract more students to their brand, hopefully locking us in as lifelong customers. They even recruit us for these jobs at career fairs on campus.
Read more worker testimonies.
But what if we said no to these cozy business ties? As we’ve proven over and over again in the apparel industry, students have incredible power to stop our administrations from engaging in these practices with unethical corporations hostile to workers’ rights. With T-Mobile workers fighting for a union voice at work and the company engaging in a vicious union-busting campaign, it’s time for us to step up and put an end to the exploitation of T-Mobile workers in our names.
That’s why we’re launching campaigns calling for an end to our universities’ ties with T-Mobile unless the company does the right thing and agrees to allow its workers to form a union free of management intimidation and puts an end to the kind of humiliating practices in its call centers that have been described as “brutal psychological terror.”
How to Get Involved
Contact USAS National Organizer Marcelle Grair to learn how you can start a T-Mobile campaign on your campus.