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Biden Judge Upholds NLRB Ruling Protecting Telecom Workers

News and Analysis
Biden Judge Upholds NLRB Ruling Protecting Telecom Workers

Judge Brad Garcia, nominated by President Biden to the DC Circuit court of appeals, wrote a 2-1 opinion that upheld a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordering T-Mobile to stop interfering with employees’ self-organizing rights and thus dissolve an organization that it set up to deal with working conditions and other issues. The January 2024 decision was in T-Mobile USA Inc v NLRB.


What is this case about?            

In 2015, national wireless carrier T-Mobile established an organization it called T-Voice.  The corporation picked representatives from among its customer service representatives (CSRs) to T-Voice, which had the stated purpose of dealing with management on customer complaints and working condition issues identified by CSR employees.

In early 2016, the Communications Workers of America, which has been attempting to organize-T-Mobile CSRs into a union, filed an unfair labor practices charge with the NLRB. The union noted that federal law specifically protects workers’ rights to self-organize and choose their own representative to deal with management on working conditions and other issues. It contended that by establishing and choosing employee representatives to T-Voice, T-Mobile was improperly dominating a “labor organization”, defined by law to include any employee group that exists at least “in part” to deal with management on working condition issues.

After extensive administrative and other proceedings, the NLRB agreed with CWA that T-Mobile was violating federal law and committing an unfair labor practice. As a remedy, it ordered the corporation to dissolve T-Voice and make clear to CSRs that they can form their own group to deal with management on working conditions issues. T-Mobile sought review of the NLRB order in the DC Circuit.


How Did Judge Garcia and the DC Circuit Rule and Why is it Important?

Judge Garcia wrote a 2-1 opinion that upheld the NLRB’s order against T-Mobile to protect workers’ rights. He wrote that Congress had explained that the law’s prohibition of employer domination of labor organizations was important to protect workers’ “full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing” to deal with their employer on  all “terms and conditions of their employment.” It did not matter, he went on, whether the employee representatives chosen by the employer presented their proposals individually or as a group. And most important, Garcia rejected T-Mobile’s claim that T-Voice was not a “labor organization.”

Garcia noted that the law specifically defines an organization like T-Voice as a “labor organization” if it deals with employers “in whole or in part” on subjects including “grievances” or “conditions of work.” Garcia pointed to T-Mobile language indicating that T-Voice could raise such matters and to six specific examples where T-Voice had done so within six months of March 2016. These included, for example, T-Voice representatives’ proposals concerning performance “metrics, training, and equipment” for CSRs. Garcia concluded that “substantial evidence” clearly supported the NLRB’s conclusion that T-Voice was a “labor organization.” Although conservative Bush I judge Ray Randolph dissented in support of T-Mobile, the majority upheld the NLRB’s ruling.

The decision by Judge Garcia is obviously important to the rights of employees and unions that deal with T-Mobile.  It also serves as a significant precedent in the DC Circuit, which handles most NLRB labor cases, concerning the danger of and remedies against corporations that try to set up their own internal employee groups to deal with working conditions and other labor matters. In addition, it is an example of the importance of promptly confirming fair-minded Biden nominees like Judge Garcia to our federal courts.