Call-centre workers expose Deutsche Telekom double standards to global panel of inquiry into workers’ rights

Call-centre workers from T-Mobile, owned by Deutsche Telekom, gave evidence exposing the stark difference in workplace conditions between the US and Germany to an international hearing on 16 February in Charleston, South Carolina.

The hearing came after a week-long visit to South Carolina workplaces from Berlin based call-centre workers from the ver.di union in Germany.

The multinational communications company negotiates with the German union for workplace conditions with union representation a key part of the company culture, but the management does not allow the same practices in the US.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary International Trade Union Confederation, said Deutsche Telekom CEO René Obermann and the German Government must listen to the voice of workers, and they have a responsibility to fix the abuses in their company.

“There are companies respected in Europe, behaving badly right here in the US.

“The German people need to know what is happening to workers in the US. They would be appalled to think the company they are so proud of, that bears the German name, could be treating workers to fear and intimidation.

“We’re saying to T-Mobile , we expect better of you. Workers’ rights don’t stop at the German border; they’re for all people,” said Sharan Burrow.

“Workers doing the same job for the same company deserve to be treated the same. Why do one set of workers in the US face threats and intimidation for wanting to be represented by a union, while others in Germany get a seat at the management table,” said Larry Cohen, President, Communications Workers of America.

Brutal local management methods in the US have included having workers being forced to wear a dunce cap to humiliate them when performance measures slipped.
Workers spoke about the culture of fear and pressure every day to keep responses to customer calls to under 360 seconds, despite it being a call-centre to speak to customers. Felicia Smalls, a call-centre worker in Charleston, told the panel “I want to keep my job, and make it better.”

Management of the multinational prevents workers from acting together to improve working conditions and keep jobs in the US.

Tomas Lenki, from ver.di in Berlin, said “We have gathered numerous stories of attacks on workers’ rights and passed them on to our board of Human Resources. We’ve been told they are isolated cases and the behaviour has stopped.

“What we have seen in first hand conversations in Charleston this week is in stark contrast to what Deutsche Telekom has told us.

“We feel betrayed and lied to from the board of Deutsche Telekom. They may tell you we are not unionised but we tell you 2 million ver.di members have your back.”

UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings said, “T-Mobile workers have spoken in Charleston. They are not prepared to be treated as second-class citizens in the Deutsche Telekom global network.

“Deutsche Telkom must take responsibility and change its behavior. UNI and the global trade union movement demand Deutsche Telekom act now.”

The global panel of political, religious and labour leaders included James Clyburne, Member of US Congress; Larry Cohen, President, Communications Workers of America; Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, ITUC; and Reverend John Paul Brown.

The global campaign ‘We expect better’ in 2013 will include more worker exchanges between Germany and the US and political pressure on Deustche Telekom’s largest shareholder, the Germany Government, in an important election year.

Notes for editors:

- T-Mobile employs more than 400 workers in a Charleston call centre and two retail stores.
- T-Mobile USA is owned by Deutsche Telekom, a transnational communications company with operations in fifty countries. It entered the US market in 2001.
- T-Mobile workers in the US have joined TU, a joint effort by CWA and the German services union ver.di .