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Progressives and the AT&T - T-Mobile Merger - Different
Views

1. Progressives Should Support the AT&T -  T-Mobile Merger -
Nathan Newman

2. Jeff Hermanson and Tom Edminster respond

==========

Progressives Should Support the AT&T -  T-Mobile Merger

by Nathan Newman

Talking Union - A Project of the DSA Labor Network

June 27, 2011

http://talkingunion.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/progressives-att-mobile-merger/#more-11207

Why should progressives care about the proposed merger of
AT&T with T-Mobile?   Because AT&T is the ONLY unionized
wireless company in the country and the merger would ensure
that 20,000+ T-Mobile workers would have the chance to join
the 43,000 currently unionized AT&T Mobility employees with
decent wages and legal protections on the job.

There are a range of other likely benefits from the merger,
from a projected deployment of high-speed broadband to over
97% of the population and better service for existing AT&T
and T-Mobile customers from more efficient integration of
available spectrum from both companies.  But stepping away
from the impact on consumers, which is being endlessly
debated, progressives should be focusing as well on the
massive gain for workers rights from the merger.

A Company That Has Worked with Its Union Employees:

In an era when workers rights are on the chopping block even
in the public sector, this is a chance to strengthen labor
rights in the private sector, where a multi-decade war on
the labor movement has decimated most unions.  AT&T has
actually been and remained a unique employer, agreeing to
stay neutral when workers seek to organize unions in various
units and recognizing the union whenever a majority of those
workers sign cards requesting it.  Based on this model
approach to employee rights, American Rights at Work, which
led the drive for the Employee Free Choice Act, picked AT&T
as a model employer in its 2007 "Partnerships that Work"
list where they wrote: "AT&T and its unions serve as allies
and business partners working to advance the success of the
company."

When AT&T has acquired new units in recent years, the
workers have been able to choose to join the union without
the usual employer intimidation that is constant in other
firms.  In fact, unionized workers at AT&T's Mobility
wireless division grew from 9300 members in 2001 to 43,000
today, most of that growth during the heart of the Bush era.
 When AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was asked about workers
rights in an investor conference call about the proposed T-
Mobile merger,  he said:

    "We have with the CWA the Communication Workers of
    America] a card check/neutrality agreement so if those
    employees decide they want to be represented by the CWA
    that process is there ... In fact you saw that with the
    AT&T Wireless deal. You saw the CWA begin to represent
    those employees in fairly short order. That's how that
    process will work out."

Can you imagine that statement coming from other company
executives?  In an era when Boeing is trying to bust its
unions by opening non-union production lines in South
Carolina, Wal-Mart routinely intimidates its employees
seeking a voice on the job, and a host of other employers
wage endless day-to-day attacks on labor rights, this merger
is one of the few opportunities where tens of thousands of
workers at a place like T-Mobile will be able to ask to have
a union recognized without risking the loss of their jobs.

The Anti-Union Alternatives:

Right now, workers at T-Mobile face a complete atmosphere or
fear and intimidation.   On top of the normal threats of
being fired if they form a union, T-Mobile workers were told
by the company that they would be punished if they said
anything negative about the company even on their personal
Facebook page.  This led to charges before the National
Labor Relations Board, which were just recently settled with
the company being required as part of the settlement to tell
employees they actually did have free speech rights on their
own social networking pages.

With the parent of T-Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, looking to
pull out of the U.S. market, the possibility looms that if
AT&T does not acquire T-Mobile, the company might be merged
with the even more viciously anti-union Sprint Nextel.
Sprint has a long history of being arguably the most anti-
worker company in the telecom industry, racking up multiple
NLRB charges in repeated organizing campaigns. Notoriously,
Sprint even shut down a whole subsidiary in San Francisco
called La Conexion Familiar (the Family Connection), which
sold long-distance service to the Spanish-speaking
community, when those workers voted for a union.   With
Sprint's majority ownership of telecom company Clearwire, a
merged T-Mobile-Sprint would create a viciously anti-union
gorilla controlling more spectrum than any other firm in the
industry.  So having T-Mobile workers land with AT&T is all
the more important given that alternative.

Why Protecting Labor Rights in Telecom Matters:

Strengthening the labor movement in a major private sector
industry is important all by itself, but what makes the
43,000 unionized wireless workers at AT&T - hopefully to be
joined by the 20,000+ T-Mobile workers legally eligible to
join a union - is that they are one of the few unionized
outposts in the growing high-technology sector.  The labor
movement needs to expand in that sector and AT&T Mobility
can be a model for how a union in a technology company can
work with its employer both to protect workers rights and
build out new technology for customers.

Also, notably, AT&T's wireless unionized workforce is
heavily southern in a country where few workers in the South
have ever had a chance to unionized.  AT&T's corporate
headquarters are in Texas, reflecting its origin as the
Southwestern Bell "baby bell," which went on to acquire
other telephone companies around the country, including AT&T
long distance (from which it borrowed a new name).  With
thousands of southern wireless workers joining the union,
this has meant that the telecom industry has actually been a
beacon of union success in a region notoriously hostile to
labor.

Progressives Should Stand with Labor on AT&T-T-Mobile
Merger:

A number of consumer groups have argued against the merger
as potentially harming consumers and competition.  I'll
write more on this in a future column, but these consumer
worries seem overwrought.

Post-merger, AT&T will still be a minority player in the
wireless world.  The large majority of the wireless industry
and, unfortunately, the majority of workers in the industry
will be in the remaining non-union companies, all looking to
undercut AT&T at the expense of their own workers' rights.

And competition in the cell phone industry, if anything, is
exploding.  Right now, anyone with an AT&T iPhone, for
example, can bypass AT&T's own phone plan to make free Skype
phone calls, use Facebook's Beluga texting service as an
alternative to AT&T's own texting plan and even bypass
AT&T's dataplans with wi-fi at home, at work or at coffee
shops all over.  Hundreds of apps are appearing on
smartphones every day to compete with services previously
only available from the wireless companies themselves.

When you contrast hypothetical competition worries with the
concrete gains in workers rights for tens of thousands of T-
Mobile workers, it's hard to argue this is a close call for
progressives.  This is one merger pro-labor progressives
should be lining up to support.

[Nathan Newman was Policy Director and then Executive
Director of Progressive States Network from 2005-2010. His
Ph.D. on Internet public policy and its relationship to
local economic development was turned into a book, Net Loss:
Internet Prophets, Private Profits and the Costs to
Community, which the Harvard Business Review described as a
"provocative case for business civic-mindedness" in the
context of the information economy.]

This post has also appeared on Tech Progress and Daily Kos.

==========

Jeff Hermanson responds:

If the anti-trust laws mean anything, this merger should not
be allowed to go through. Isn't there enough concentration
in the US economy already? Do we really want more market
power in the hands of AT&T? Shouldn't our objective be to
organize T-Mobile workers, rather than hoping AT&T can buy
the company and do it for us (after laying off 15-20,000
workers in the name of "efficiency")?

===

Tom Edminster responds:

Isn't Hermanson most "on target" here in terms of worker AND
public interest? AND ATT service is increasingly shitty, but
many measures and noted in business pages across the US...
Hence their probably loss of customer base - due to crappy
network and shitty customer service - will not be offset by
mere merger with T-Mobile unless they upgrade..and invest
also in the customer service/relations end as well...

Additionally: worker interests are not necessarily
immediately served by "organization from the top." Hence,
any left-progressive knee-jerk endorsement of undermining
anti-trust legislation and enforcement--in this case---and
in others--should be looked at carefully.

========== 

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