TU Activist Attends Shareholder Meeting of Deutsche Telekom

1. Juni 2012: CWA-TU activist Blake Poindexter addressed shareholders at the annual meeting in Cologne, Germany. A former T-Mobile USA worker who had worked in a call center in Frisco, Texas, before the company announced on March 22 it would close along with six other call centers, Blake now works with CWA-TU to help T-Mobile USA workers organize local unions. Before several thousand shareholders, he blasted the failed policy of offshoring and the persistent union avoidance at T-Mobile. Offshoring to the Philippines, Guatemala, and other countries is a mistake, he argued, since it angers customers, and T-Mobile has been losing customers. It is better to invest in human resources in the U.S. for U.S. customers. He pointed to the German experience at DT in which the company returned work after sending it abroad: “why do you repeat the same mistake?”

Blake also turned his attention to the persistent fear that remains in the workplaces of T-Mobile USA. T-Mobile workers “fear for their future and their ability to provide for their families. They fear the constantly changing performance metrics.” Blake pointed out that “in Germany, supervisors tend to help workers perform better. In the U.S., supervisors tend to impose harsh discipline.” He asked Mr. René Obermann, CEO of Deutsche Telekom, if he would release the annual numbers of involuntary separations from T-Mobile as well as the comparable numbers at Deutsche Telekom Germany.

Not only has management instilled a fear of arbitrary discipline, Blake asserted, but the company has developed a culture in which workers fear even taking a leaflet from the union. They fear being seen with union organizers. Sympathetic managers counsel workers to stay away from the union. Then Blake told Obermann: “Don’t let fear overwhelm your employees. Unions provide some security for employees. A voice in the workplace provides a set of rules that all employees can live within. Because of such rules, involuntary turnover is lower, and management can build a learning workplace that better serves the contract customers we hope to attract and retain."

The contrast between Deutsche Telekom in Germany and Deutsche Telekom/T-Mobile in the U.S. is stunning. DT just reached new agreements with 68,000 Deutsche Telekom workers in Germany that provided a 6.5 percent wage increase over two years. The bargaining was tough but the union achieved its goals in bargaining. “Why is this settlement possible in Germany, asked CWA President Larry Cohen, “yet in the United States, management continues a campaign of fear and intimidation in the workplace.” Click here for our reporting on the successful negotiations for the first 50,000 DT workers.

Kornelia Dubbel, ver.di activist and DT works councilor who has visited T-Mobile workers many times (click here and here, addressed the situation in the USA in her speech. She asked Obermann to learn from the German experience and to stop the offshoring strategy: “Merger failed – sole reaction: Cost cutting! Downsize the staff!” We expect better of Deutsche Telekom: "German companies should give a good example within the structures of other countries, but not with behavior we would never accept at Deutsche Telekom in Germany.”

For Blake, this was an exciting day: „Standing in front of all these people, I was afraid that the shareholders don’t want to hear anything about what I am talking about and they might boo me, but the opposite happened and I earned great applause. After my speech, DGB President Michael Sommer and Lothar Schröder (who leads ver.di’s telecom work and who is actually Vice Chairman of DT) congratulated me on my speech. This has given me energy. I’ve even talked briefly with René Obermann. I really hope that Deutsche Telekom will rethink what it is doing in the U.S.“

Also on Thursday, an open letter to Deutsche Telekom signed by prominent U.S. government officials, including two former Secretaries of Labor, appeared in the Bonn newspaper, Bonner Generalanzeiger. This letter reinforces the message from German leaders and scholars who signed a similar ad in the New York Times in March. Both letters call on DT to end the union avoidance in the U.S. and to give workers at DT subsidiaries, especially T-Mobile USA, the same respect accorded to German workers when it comes to organizing and bargaining rights.