True Solidarity - ver.di assists with organizing

8. August 2012: It is hot in Nashville! The temperature approaches 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the air is heavy. Organizers cover the three entrances to the call center and offer leaflets and conversation to the drivers going to work at the T-Mobile call center. Among those organizers are Lothar Schröder and Constantin Greve.

On June 23, Lothar and Constantin arrived in the United States to help T-Mobile workers organize local unions. Lothar is a member of ver.di’s National Executive Board and the top ver.di leader in telecom. He also happens to sit on the Deutsche Telekom Supervisory Board, but he came to the U.S. strictly in his trade union capacity. Constantin is a member of the ver.di National Council and a Deutsche Telekom works councilor.

The two leaders from ver.di spent a week in Washington, D.C. where they met with T-Mobile workers from around the country. Together they participated in an inaugural conference call between TU activists in Germany and the United States. The 90 minute conversation on call center monitoring could have last much longer. The German activists – many of whom visited in February – were astounded at the way monitoring was used for discipline in the U.S., while it was used to improve service in Germany.

Lothar and Constantin also visited the office of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) to talk about T-Mobile, did a radio interview, and discussed labor relations in Germany to a packed house at CWA. They also fit in thirty hours of English language instruction! After D.C., Lothar and Constantin travelled to New York City where they met with T-Mobile retail workers and talked to CWA organizers.

The Nashville experience has already been compelling. Lothar and Constantin have heard stories about workers routinely humiliated by their supervisors; workers suffering anxiety attacks because of the stress inflicted by T-Mobile management, and workers fired for trivial reasons.

The Nashville call center did not suffer the fate of the seven centers that were closed June 22. As of now, it remains open. But customer service representatives in Nashville were affected nonetheless. T-Mobile management closed those centers to send more work to the Philippines and Central America. Yet, the offshore call centers create problems – workers there are limited to simple scripts and cannot resolve the billing problems or provide the technical explanations needed by the customer. Customer calls are then re-routed to centers, such as Nashville, whose employees must fix the problem in 477 seconds or face discipline. One worker was fired for a rise in “customer response time” (CRT) that deteriorated since T-Mobile accelerated its offshoring program. Another worker was fired for failing to save 5 customers an hour!

Lothar tried to introduce himself to local management but managers refused to meet with him. According to a subsequent e-mail, the company’s policy is to “not grant meetings or interviews with any third party groups without prior corporate approval.” Lothar’s request was refused. It seems Deutsche Telekom thinks of ver.di as a “third party.”

Lothar and Constantin will spend five days in Nashville leafleting, meeting with workers, and visiting workers at their homes. After Nashville, they will travel to New Orleans to witness a card check process at AT&T – a competing story to the union avoidance at T-Mobile. Instead of fighting every attempt by workers to organize, AT&T agrees to recognize units where a majority of workers sign membership cards and a third party verifies the cards.

Lothar will then attend a collective bargaining session for the small unit of 16 technicians in Connecticut. These are the same negotiations that the company has allowed to drag on for 10 months. Ver.di leader Ado Wilhelm attended bargaining in June and urged the company to show CWA-TU the same level of respect accorded ver.di by Deutsche Telekom.

Then the agenda returns to organizing when Lothar and Constantin visit call centers in Wichita and Albuquerque. Constantin is reporting daily on his blog. We encourage readers to sneak a peak – use Google Translator if need be.

Lothar and Constantin are spending their summer vacation helping U.S. workers exercise their rights to freedom of association. And, when possible, they try to stay in the shade and push the fluids.