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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Union sounds out T-Mobile call center workers

BY JERRY SIEBENMARK
The Wichita Eagle

An effort is under way in Wichita and across the country to organize employees of wireless phone service provider T-Mobile.

Tammy Chaffee, an organizer with Communications Workers of America Local 6402 in Wichita, said the effort started more than a year ago.

"But we've just stepped up our effort on it in the last few months," Chaffee said this week.

That stepped-up effort has primarily been the passing of fliers with information about the organizing effort to workers at the T-Mobile call center at 2525 N. Woodlawn.

"We just do the handbilling, just get the information out to employees at this point," she said.

Chaffee said the organizing effort arises from the difference between employees of Deutsche Telekom, the German parent of T-Mobile, and T-Mobile employees in the U.S.

"We want the workers here in the United States to have the same rights and benefits that workers in Germany have," she said.

According to a website established for the purposes of organizing T-Mobile employees, www.tuworkers.org, Deutsche Telekom employees won a 5.5 percent pay increase through collective bargaining. The contract also protects those workers through 2010 from the outsourcing of work.

The website — a joint effort between CWA and German union Ver.di — also said T-Mobile employees aren't receiving annual pay increases and they "face more and more of their work being outsourced to the Philippines, Canada, and Colombia."

In a statement to The Eagle, the Bellevue, Wash.-based company said it "respects the rights of unions to exist and recognizes and respects employees' rights to organize or to refrain from organizing. To date, T-Mobile employees have chosen not to join any union."

T-Mobile also notes in the statement its 2009 ranking in Fortune magazine's "100 Best Places to Work in the United States."

"T-Mobile provides an employee-friendly workplace where our people enjoy excellent working conditions, competitive pay and benefits, and direct, open and frequent communication with managers," the statement said.

Chaffee said Wichita T-Mobile employees' reaction to the organizing effort has been "positive, but they're afraid of what will happen to them" if they openly support or join the effort.

"There will come a point when we take it to the next step," she said. "We don't have enough workers involved to take it to the next level. With organizing you're pretty much at the mercy of workers themselves and how much they want to progress. It's not something we can make happen without their effort."

"So we don't have a set timetable. It may take six months, it make take a year" to move the organizing effort forward, Chaffee said.

A T-Mobile spokeswoman said the company employs more than 600 people at its Wichita call center.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com.

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