Yes, labor law restrains employers from starting an employee organization the sole purpose of which is to constructively work with employees on improving work conditions and productivity. A recent decision from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency in charge of resolving labor relations disputes in the private sector, illustrates the absurdity of America’s antiquated labor laws.
On April 3, a NLRB Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled that T-Voice, a committee created by T-Mobile so management could receive feedback from front-line employees to improve customer and employee experience, violated Section 8(a)(2) National Labor Relations Act. Under this section of the Act, it is illegal for a company to create and dominate—determine the structure and function—of what is known as a company union.
Not allowing a company to establish an internal organization that is used to resolve employee concerns is a defect of the NLRA. Especially in the instance of T-Mobile setting up T-Voice, which is essentially a 21st century suggestion box.
The ALJ decision describes how T-Voice worked. T-Mobile created T-Voice to organize its employee feedback mechanism. In short, T-Mobile chose employee representatives for T-Voice and they would solicit and collect voluntary submissions on perceived problems and complaints related to the workplace and customer service. This allowed employees to raise issues to T-Voice employee reps who would then bring them to management in an effort to correct the problems. The program was put in place to ensure that the voices of employees at T-Mobile were heard and employees could work with management to create a better work environment.
But according to the NLRA, a third-party union is necessary to undertake a collaborative process with employees to address workplace concerns. Management is prohibited from establishing an employee organization that deals with work conditions. As T-Mobile President John Legere tweeted yesterday:
This is ludicrous. We’re appealing. Listening to front-line employees tell us what customers need is imperative to our business. #wewontstop.
NLRB precedent states that anti-union animus is irreverent in determining whether an employer created employee organization is illegal. Even if the employer’s intent is benevolent in the creation of a company employee organization, all that matters is whether an employer uses the employee organization to deal with conditions of employment, which is in violation of the Act.
Congress should resurrect the 1991 bill entitled the American Competitiveness Act that would permit the formation of internal company organizations like T-Voice, with or without the involvement of a third-party union. Employers and employees should not be stifled from working out problems because of an 80 year old labor law that does not comport with the reality of 21st Century workplaces.