Report reveals deteriorating labor conditions at big US wireless carriers – The Guardian

Wage theft, security issues and health problems on the rise after AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile outsource retail stores, report finds
Labor conditions and collective bargaining rights have worsened in the large US wireless carrier industry now that big telecommunications firms are increasingly outsourcing their retail sales and customer service operations from company-owned stores.
The sector, dominated by AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, which together reported $337.1bn in revenue in 2022, is now plagued by wage theft, security issues, overworked staff and health and safety problems, according to a new report.
The study, by the Communications Workers of America and National Employment Law Project, found the three largest wireless carriers in the US have increasingly outsourced retail operations to authorized dealers and sellers. That has undermined collective bargaining rights for these workers and resulted in degraded working conditions in comparison with corporate owned and operated retail stores.
Cassandra Lopez Rosario worked at an authorized AT&T dealer in Michigan for a year before she was fired in December 2021 while out sick with Covid-19.
She explained throughout her employment, her store experienced several security problems, including robberies that went unresolved after complaints to district and regional management. She also said her store experienced high turnover and she was often left working the store by herself, meaning she had to skip breaks and find time to eat between customers or wait until she got home. That made managing her diabetes on the job even more difficult.
“There were times when I would get lightheaded and dizzy in front of customers and they would notice,” Lopez Rosario said. “My manager didn’t care.”
She also claimed she was responsible for training herself and had to pay out of pocket for cleaning supplies to clean the store window because management demanded the windows be cleaned but would not provide proper supplies to do it.
“They only care about money, they don’t care about your safety, health or about you in general,” she added. “They literally just underpay you and they would either keep your commission or cut it and if you’re a girl, you have to work twice as hard to get any sort of recognition or attention from anybody.”
In the report, a survey of more than 200 workers at authorized retailers in 43 states found nine out of 10 workers reported experiencing wage theft. Three out of four workers reported having to rely on at least 25% of their wages through sales commissions. Nearly two in three workers reported they were unable to take breaks during their shifts.
The reported wage theft includes being paid below minimum wage rates, denied overtime pay, denied commissions or bonuses or forced to work off the clock.
Workers in the survey also reported experiencing retaliation for raising workplace problems, being forced to work overtime, a lack of adequate job training, being forced to sign non-compete agreements and claimed an emphasis on commissions had driven poor sales practices and customer service at their retail stores.
About nine in 10 workers reported the wireless carrier that licensed their retail store still played a role in setting policies and practices at the retailers, despite authorized retailers’ classification as independent employers.
The report cites a recent surge in the outsourcing of retail stores by wireless carriers, with 60 to 80% of all wireless retailers operating as authorized retailers as opposed to being corporate owned and operated.
“It is an increasing trend,” said an AT&T retail employee and union steward in Kentucky who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. “The things mentioned in the report are things we’re hearing on a daily basis.”
They cited significant differences between retail workers at corporate-owned stores who are unionized and those working at authorized retailers. Those differences involved staffing levels, training and pay structures, leading to problems at authorized dealers that often have to be corrected by union members at corporate stores.
From January 2018 to December 2022, AT&T’s use of authorized retailers increased from 61% to 73%, resulting in a loss of 10,000 unionized jobs, and highlighted significant differences in wages and benefits for unionized retail wireless workers compared with workers at authorized retailers.
“They take jobs and money away from us in corporate stores,” said Karen Nagjee, a retail sales employee at AT&T in the Atlanta, Georgia area and CWA Local 3204 AT&T Mobility vice-president. “When I used to work in an authorized retailer, I would get called into work at the last minute and my commissions weren’t paid on time.”
She noted the poor working conditions in authorized retailers, and sales practices referred to as “cramming and slamming” where workers at these dealers are pressured to hit sales and commission targets, often adding things on to customer accounts who are unaware until they receive their bill.
“I applied at AT&T because it was a union job,” Nagjee added. “Workers at authorized retailers are underpaid and overworked, partly because of their management forcing them to do things that in my union contract, I’m clear of.”