Deutsche Telekom is one of the largest telecommunications companies in Europe with significant global investment and operations. It has been publicly traded on German stock exchanges since 1996, when it was partially privatized in what was then the world’s largest initial public offering. DT had €58.2 billion in global revenue in 2012, ranking 89th in Fortune Magazine’s Global 500. It had 132.3 million mobile customers worldwide and 32.4 million fixed-network lines in 2012. While Germany is the company’s largest market, DT does more business outside Germany than inside.
T-Mobile US, Inc. is a wireless company providing mobile service to 43 million customers. It employs 38,000 workers in the US at 17 call centers, over 2,000 stores, and small groups of technicians. The company was formed when, in 2001, Deutsche Telekom purchased Voicestream Communications and PowerTel in the US market and re-branded the operations as T-Mobile. Until May 1, 2013, T-Mobile USA was 100% owned by Deutsche Telekom. On May 1, T-Mobile USA merged with the smaller wireless carrier MetroPCS to create the public company T-Mobile US, Inc., of which Deutsche Telekom owns 74%.
A Global Campaign to Organize a Global Company
The Communications Workers of America has supported worker organizing at T-Mobile since 2001. The US wireless industry, except for AT&T Mobility, is viciously anti-union. German ownership of Voicestream, re-named T-Mobile USA, did not alter the union avoidance tactics of management. As the newly formed T-Mobile USA began to expand its U.S. presence, it retained union-avoidance outside legal counsel, it continued training HR personnel on ways to counter worker attempts to organize, and it continued both overt and subtle anti-union messaging to the workforce.
In 2005, CWA began a long-term partnership with ver.di, the union representing Deutsche Telekom workers in Germany. Through exchanges among top-level leaders as well as worker-activists, both unions worked to learn each other’s systems of labor relations. Ver.di call center union members from different cities across Germany have formed partnerships with T-Mobile call center workers in cities across the US. Workers in call centers, retail stores and tech units are joining together to build their union and to make positive changes on the job.
Ver.di members understand the deep employer animosity toward worker participation in unions and the extremes of union avoidance behavior by Deutsche Telekom in its T-Mobile US operations. Outraged that a German employer that engages in social dialogue and collective bargaining in Germany (indeed, ver.di leaders sit on the supervisory board of the company) would work so hard to discourage its U.S. workers from organizing unions, ver.di joined CWA in creating TU, the Union for T-Mobile USA Workers. This joint union created a vehicle for CWA to organize and represent T-Mobile workers in the United States and for ver.di to participate in bargaining and representation before the parent company in Germany. The partnership union has created a significant membership base.