Your AT&T Manager’s Poor Ethics Should Be Grieved

In fall of 2016, as the Wells Fargo “fake account” scandal broke wide open, I remember wondering when it would be AT&T’s turn in the barrel. It seems like a pretty obvious statement, but managing through a combination of fear and zero-sum “incentive” programs will almost certainly lead to bad ethical decisions by supervisors and employees alike; these decisions often harm customers and/or the public, but first these decisions always harm the employees.

In the case of these Mobility employees, after being encouraged by their boss to create fake DirecTV accounts, they were eventually caught by an automated system and left holding the bag. Like all such behavior, this could not have taken place without at least the tacit buy-in of their supervisors; though as yet reports are that only employees were fired.

So if a customer agreed to purchase a trial, representatives were able to use that credit card to start several trials as long as they totaled no more than $35. This often happened during $10 promotional periods because representatives could squeeze three sales into one.

“My manager picked up my iPad, which was signed in under me, made a fake email and then activated a Direct TV Now subscription on that email and then said if I can do it, here you go, you can do the next one,” a fired AT&T employee said, preferring to remain anonymous.

Union Reps Should Challenge Supervisors’ Failure to Follow Their Own Policies

This will not make you popular, especially with management. Supervisors’ pay is based on a ranking system that assumes, among other things, that all employees are following AT&T’s approximate one bajillion work-rules, policies, practices, procedures, guidelines, codicils, precepts, and of course, codes. As we see in the example above, some managers have found that they can “choose to succeed” by coercing or allowing some of their employees to skirt policies in order to improve their production. For some reps, it can be easy to write off the cheating as no big deal. After all, if nobody’s getting disciplined by the boss and production is good, what can go wrong?

Here are some things that can go wrong:

  • Employees on other crews who do not cheat are more at risk of performance discipline due to ranking
  • Lack of enforcement of some rules leads to same of other rules; including safety rules
  • Management cheating harms our unity. Most employees do not cheat the system. Union reps who do not challenge this risk being perceived as colluding with management
  • Lack of union action on this issue will be cited by management as consent in arbitrations and other procedures (I have witnessed this)
  • Employees who report rule-breaking are retaliated against

How to Grieve Management’s Own Violation of Its Policies

If an employee or group of employees brings this concern to the Local, it should not be ignored. The steward should immediately interview the rest of that manager’s crew to ascertain the scope of the problem. A craft-meeting should be held to explain that the Union takes this seriously because of the harm such unfairness does to fellow workers – especially those at risk of performance discipline. Then, engage the manager and explain the union’s concerns about fair application of the work-rules for all employees – not just the ones on his crew. Most managers will try to tell the steward that they are the boss and can change AT&T policies as they see fit. This is false, but now the Local must get this manager’s falsehood on the record so it can be corrected using the grievance process.

Typically this should be grieved under the “Respectful Relationship” clause of the contract, because management’s actions are causing turmoil and stress on the membership by its arbitrary and capricious application of its work-rules bordering on unfairness. The remedy should be a statement by the supervisor to the crew that he will fairly apply the Company’s work-rules and policies in an even-handed manner. That statement should be preserved to “build the record.”

Such a grievance can be settled at the first step, provided the first-line supervisor commits to a fair settlement. But, in my experience, such behavior is at least condoned, if not encouraged, by his area manager. If that is the case, the Local should get the area manager’s statement about why this behavior is allowed from his direct-report. If the area manager will not correct the issue, the grievance should be advanced to the third-step for Labor Relations’ position.

Even if the grievance is denied at all three steps, it is important to do this because the trail of grievances will serve as documentary evidence in an arbitration or NLRB proceeding, if needed to save a job. Usually though, the supervisor is “fixed” by the second step of the grievance because bosses don’t want the Union to have too much evidence that they do not follow the rules!

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