Business Q & A

5 questions with Lothar Schroder

Lothar Schroder is head of Ver.di, one of the world’s largest unions.

He was in Wichita recently to help the T-Mobile Workers United 6457 open a union office at 609 N. Broadway, part of its ongoing attempt to organize T-Mobile call centers in Wichita and around the country.

Ver.di represents workers in Germany, including at Deutsche Telekom, the parent of T-Mobile. The local is part of the Communications Workers of America.

In Germany, the union has a significant role in the company, and Schroder sits on the equivalent of Deutsche Telekom’s board of directors. He said that Deutsche Telekom asked for Ver.di’s help in buying VoiceStream and entering the U.S. market but has worked since to keep the union out of its U.S. operations.

Q. How is the unionizing effort going at T-Mobile?

A. We get more and more members in the United States. People ask more and more for a voice at the workplace. They have problems with the shifts. They have problems with the metrics (used to calculate bonuses). They want someone who speaks for them at the workplace.

People in the unions … in Germany cannot understand why the United States did everything to hold the union out. That is the not the German way to do things.

Q. Is T-Mobile anti-union?

A. Yeah, they have a very strong anti-union movement. The union is not able to bring fliers to put on the desktops, not able to come into the company to speak with people.

Three years ago, I rang at the door at T-Mobile to try to bring fliers inside and try to speak with the management. In the German culture, we inform management what we do, but in America, they won’t speak with us. That is very strange to me.

Q. In an age of globalization, why are unions necessary?

A. Workers built the value in the companies. And the people who built the value must have a voice to discuss with management. We are not against the management, not against T-Mobile, but we stand for the voice of the people to discuss about working conditions, to discuss about the metrics, to discuss about the salary, but not in a way where management shows the way and that’s the only way.

Q. Do you think the United States will become more pro-union in the future?

A. I hope the United States has the potential to get more unionized. You had a very good economic situation in the ’50s and over the last century, when a lot of people were unionized. Now, young people want more and more rights in the workplace. We see more and more people in T-Mobile come to us, speak with us; there is a lot of fear in their minds. But they get stronger, and they fight for their rights.

Q. Why is a German union here?

A. People in the United States tell us there is a lot of pressure in the working place. A lot of people in Germany said we must help our American colleagues. We are in the same company, doing the same jobs.

T-Mobile in the U.S. is very successful. We want to make people who work for it more successful, to give them more security in their job and a voice in their workplace.

Dan Voorhis: 316-268-6577, @danvoorhis