Washington, DC – A new report released  by the Communications Workers of America and the National Employment Law Project  provides a first-of-its-kind look at the effects of outsourcing in the wireless telecom industry. 

The report titled, “Broken Network: Workers Expose Harms of Wireless Telecom Carriers’ Outsourcing to ‘Authorized Retailers.” The document includes a survey of over 200 workers from nearly 45 states at “authorized retailers” for the industry’s three dominant carriers, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. The workers’ responses reveal that the practice of outsourcing stores to third party authorized retailers by these carriers, referred to as workplace fissuring, has detrimental impacts on employees  and consumers. The investigation documented   unstable and suppressed wages, wage theft, inadequate training, retaliatory work environments, fraudulent sales practices, unpredictable schedules, and poor customer service.

Wireless carriers currently outsource 60 to 80 percent of their branded retail locations to authorized retailers. AT&T alone has closed nearly 600 of its corporate-owned stores since 2018 in favor of using authorized retailers.

“CWA members have been fighting back against outsourcing for years, whether it is through collective bargaining or direct action, and encouraging the public to use union stores,” said CWA District 3 Vice President Richard Honeycutt. “Outsourcing is a tactic that cuts corners and falls directly in line with the profit-boosting strategies of vulture capitalist firms like Elliott Management. It is not sustainable, and it comes at the cost of workers and customer service. It’s time companies like AT&T and Verizon adjust their game plan and start putting their workforce and the needs of customers first.”

Unlike employees at corporate stores, workers at authorized retail stores do not have the ability to form a union and bargain directly with the company that holds power over their wages and working conditions. In the last few years, telecom companies have increasingly converted corporate-owned stores to authorized retail stores in order to boost profits, avoid accountability, and strip workers’ rights and protections. AT&T’s escalated use of authorized retailers in the last five years—from 61 percent of stores in January 2018 to 73 percent in December 2022—coincided with a loss of over 10,000 union-represented jobs.

“I have worked in the wireless industry for many years and I know first hand the difference having a union contract and a voice on the job makes. Prior to coming to my current job at a union store, I worked at an AT&T authorized retailer and as a manager at a corporate owned T-Mobile’s store. Coming to work at a union-represented AT&T store was life-changing. I was pregnant with my daughter, so I needed a more stable, accommodating workplace,” said Karen Nagjee, CWA Local 3204 AT&T Mobility Vice President. “At T-Mobile, I didn’t have flexible hours, or any control over my own job. Now, I have a union contract and the ability to negotiate my working conditions with management. When I take PTO, I no longer have to worry about being called in last-minute or having to make up my sales. I can finally plan my life around my work schedule and take care of myself and my family. Right now, I feel empowered to stand alongside my fellow union members and fight for a contract that limits outsourcing so we can keep more good, union jobs in our communities”

Without the protection of a union and a collective bargaining agreement, workers at authorized retail stores face significant disadvantages regarding benefits and working conditions. Base pay rates for surveyed workers at authorized retailers are lower than the rates of union-represented retail store employees working directly for AT&T. While all CWA-represented workers at AT&T corporate stores have access to employee benefits such as health insurance, retirement, paid vacation, and paid sick leave, the survey results show that access to these benefits is not universal for authorized retail workers. Less than half of respondents reported having access to retirement benefits and paid sick leave.


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