President Shelton Remarks to the verdi convention in Leipzig, Germany

Brothers and sisters, let me introduce myself briefly. My name is Chris Shelton and I am CWA’s new president. I am from New York City where I led CWA’s District 1 for many years. Many of you have met my predecessor, Larry Cohen and I know you will agree with me when I say that Larry has been one of the most visionary, transformational, and effective labor leaders in the world and I am thankful that he was the one that brought our two unions together. I know I have big shoes to fill and I hope you will help me to fill them.

This is my first time here in Germany, and my first time coming to your convention. It is a great honor and privilege to be here today to address the biggest service sector union in the world!

On behalf of all TU members in the United States, I want to thank you for your ongoing support!

TU is the union for T-Mobile Workers in the United States and it was jointly created by ver.di and CWA. Your leader Frank Bsirske and ver.di Telekom leader Lothar Schröder both have realized that the only answer to the problems created by globalization is real, global solidarity. By connecting American and German workers of the same international company, divided by the Atlantic and by almost opposite working conditions, TU is the most innovative and effective answer to the divide-and-conquer mentality of globalization. Ver.di members at Deutsche Telekom are giving T-Mobile workers tremendous hope, strength, and the courage to fight back. Thank you, Frank, Lothar for your personal engagement and all of ver.di for giving us hope.

I especially want to acknowledge Lothar Schröder, Ado Wilhelm, and Kornelia Dubbel today, whose leadership and support have been the backbone of our T-Mobile campaign. Thank you Lothar, and thank you Ado and Kornelia – your amazing leadership keeps this campaign strong and gives T-Mobile workers the motivation to keep fighting for a union.

CWA has been working with T-Mobile workers who are uniting for a voice at work for almost 15 years now. T-Mobile workers are tired of being pushed around by management, stressful working conditions, and the fact that they have absolutely no say in anything. Unreasonable metrics make it impossible for workers to succeed and management’s only strategy for success is negative reinforcement.

I’m sure you’ve heard all these stories already: In call centers, workers have to wear dunce caps when they don’t meet their numbers; bad customer calls are being played publicly in the call center for everyone to hear; pregnant workers are denied bathroom breaks, and workers are being sent home on a regular basis to write essays about why they deserve to keep their job.

Deutsche Telekom workers who talked to T-Mobile workers and heard those stories first couldn’t believe it and then felt ashamed that their company, Deutsche Telekom, would let this happen.

T-Mobile fights every attempt of workers who join together to fight against the abuse and make positive change at work. They attack them every step of the way, by all means necessary.  T-Mobile uses every scare tactic in the book to intimidate and discourage workers, they discipline workers who show support for the union, and even fire activists. They take pictures of workers who take leaflets. They have seniors spy on their coworkers and then report every union button they see, every union-T-Shirt a worker wears, and every mention of the union to the company’s headquarters in Bellevue.

It probably does not come as a surprise to you when I say that the company does not even shy away from breaking the law. 

In March of this year, T-Mobile was found guilty by the highest U.S. labor court of violating labor laws in 11 counts. The judge called the company’s violations systematic and pervasive and ordered the company to change several illegal corporate policies that prevent workers from organizing and notify all employees about their rights to form a union. To this day, the company has failed to follow the judge’s orders. That is an outrage!

What is even more unacceptable is the fact that despite this really big and unusually strongly worded decision, T-Mobile keeps breaking the law.

Just last month, the company was found guilty of illegally silencing Angela Agganis in Oakland, Maine, who had complained about sexual harassment by a manager. Instead of protecting her, they told her she can’t tell anyone about it and if she does, she will be disciplined or terminated. This is criminal. And the list goes on and on. Right now, there are dozens of charges pending against the company!

Ver.di and CWA and even members of Congress in the United States and Members of the Bundestag in Germany have told Deutsche Telekom over and over that they need to respect the law and that they need to get rid of this double standard that treats Americans like second class citizens. What does the company say? They deliberately chose to look the other way. Let me quote from a recent response from Deutsche Telekom to a letter from Congressman Mark Pocan: “We have no indications that T-Mobile US is not treating its workers in a legal, fair, and respectful manner.” T-Mobile has chosen to lie in writing to Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble about U.S. labor law and Deutsche Telekom has backed up T-Mobile’s lies.

This is preposterous! The company has been found guilty, the New York Times wrote a half page about it and every other newspaper reported on it, it even made the news in Germany - and still they have the audacity to say, we know nothing.

But still - against all these odds, these attacks by management, the intimidation and the pressure every day, T-Mobile workers decide to stand up and fight for what’s right. They want to be treated with respect. They want to be able to provide for their family without living in fear of losing their job. They want to have a voice at work and they want to be heard.

Brothers and sisters, CWA will stand with T-Mobile workers as long as it takes to support them in their fight for justice. Now I have one question for you: will you stand with them as well? Will you stand with T-Mobile workers fighting for a union?

Ver.di members at Deutsche Telekom have gone above and beyond in their support for their coworkers in the United States. We have built 11 worksite to worksite partnerships, and TU partner activists in Germany have taken many actions: Hundreds of activists in dozens of DT locations all over Germany protested the unfair termination of Wichita activist Josh; Telekom workers have confronted Deutsche Telekom managers at various meetings; and, this summer, Frank Bsirske submitted a petition to the German government and activists at Deutsche Telekom helped to collect 45,000 signatures! That is 45,000  people telling the Bundestag that they need to make sure that Deutsche Telekom, which is partially owned by the state, and their global subsidiaries like T-Mobile US to not break the law and violate workers’ rights. And we are still collecting signatures! If you haven’t  - please sign the petition today. Forty-five thousand voices is a strong and united voice that the Bundestag needs to listen to.

Brothers and sisters, on behalf of all TU members in the United States, I want to thank you with all my heart for your amazing support on the petition!

We hope that this voice is loud and clear so that Chancellor Merkel won’t be able to ignore it. Angela Merkel has made international corporate responsibility a key part of her presidency of the G7 countries. We need to remind her that this starts right here at home at Deutsche Telekom. With a 31.7 percent ownership stake at Deutsche Telekom, the German government will have made a mockery out of its commitment to social responsibility if it fails to insist that T-Mobile respects workers’ rights.

The work we are doing together is tremendously important and goes beyond T-Mobile: It is the right and only answer to the dangers of globalization, which is ever more crucial, given the pending Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership TTIP.

As you know, agreements like these, negotiated in secret with devastating consequences for working families and the environment, pose a great risk for both of our democracies. We need to work even closer together to effectively fight global corporate greed. I commend you for your amazing mobilization in Europe. CWA has been at the forefront fighting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP together with hundreds of allies. This is dead serious. But I know, in working with you – we’re up for the challenge.

If TTIP or TPP passes, it will be easier for corporations to undercut workers’ rights, destroy unions and avoid regulations. In other words, horrible conditions like those at T-Mobile will become the rule. We have to be bigger, bolder, and badder to make sure that that doesn’t happen. Are you with me?

The thing that bothers me the most about Deutsche Telekom is that they know how to treat employees with respect and they know that the sky doesn’t fall when you work with the union, because they have worked with ver.di for many decades. And that’s why we say, we expect better. Deutsche Telekom can do better. Deutsche Telekom has to do better. And I know that with your support, Deutsche Telekom will be better!

Here’s to solidarity and unity between T-Mobile Workers and Deutsche Telekom workers and between CWA and ver.di. Are you ready brothers and sisters to help us fight the fight at T-Mobile?  Are you ready to help us fight the fight at Deutsche Telekom?  Are you ready to reach across the Atlantic, across the world, to stand with your brothers and sisters in the U.S. and beyond?  Are you ready to stand up and fight back?  Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can make a change. Together, we will win.

Solidarity forever!