One way an employer may violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is to create a “company union.” Under Section 8(a)(2) of the NLRA, it is an unfair labor practice for an employer “to dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization or contribute financial or other support to it.” A labor organization is “any organization of any kind, or any agency or employee representation committee or plan, in which employees participate and which exists for the purpose, in whole or in part, of dealing with employers concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work.”
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently found that T-Mobile USA Inc. maintained an unlawful company-dominated labor organization and ordered the company to stop the program. T-Mobile USA, Inc. and Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO, Case 14-CA-170229, 372 NLB No. 4, (NLRB Nov. 18, 2022).
T-Mobile created T-Voice in 2015 to provide a vehicle for customer service representatives to report issues concerning working conditions to management. The program’s mission was to enhance the customer and employee experience “by identifying, discussing, and communicating solutions for roadblocks for internal and external customers.” T-Voice was a mechanism for employee feedback and “closed loop communication” with the company’s senior management. The program was financially supported solely by T-Mobile. T-Voice served two primary functions: (1) solicitation, collection, and submission of pain points; and (2) regular meetings of T-Voice representatives with managers and team members after which management’s response to the pain points were provided to employees.
While most of the issues addressed through T-Voice pertained to customer matters, many of the issues related to the terms and conditions of employment, including paid time off, awards, and employee performance metrics. The company implemented changes to some of those working conditions following the T-Voice process.
T-Mobile did not dispute that it dominated T-Voice or that T-Voice was a program for its customer service representatives to bring work-related issues to the company’s attention. The question before the NLRB was whether T-Voice is a labor organization. The Board answered in the affirmative because T-Voice employee representatives served in a representative capacity on behalf of other employees in which the company considered proposals and responded, sometimes with changes to workplace conditions. Per the Board’s decision: “Since T-Voice acted in a representative capacity, it came within the Act’s definition of a labor organization if it dealt with the [company] concerning conditions of work or other statutory subjects.”
The Board distinguished T-Voice from a unilateral feedback process, such as a suggestion box in which employees can submit ideas individually and unilaterally – the back and forth process of T-Voice’s process would not be present in the suggestion box framework.
The NLRB therefore concluded that T-Voice was an unlawful company union in violation of the Act. One of T-Voice’s objectives was to address working condition and, in so doing, had the support of T-Mobile. The Board ordered T-Mobile to immediately disestablish and cease all support to T-Voice and post an appropriate notice at its call centers where it maintained T-Voice. According to the Board, “disestablishment of T-Voice is the necessary and proper remedy to ameliorate the effects of the [company’s] unlawful domination of the labor organization.”
In dissent, NLRB member John Ring wrote that “T-Voice was intended to serve as a lawful employee feedback program, and it operated that way in practice with at most a few rare and isolated exceptions.”