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German union to represent T-Mobile USA workers

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. and German labor leaders announced a transatlantic alliance on Wednesday aimed at persuading Germany's giant Deutsche Telekom AG to allow collective bargaining at its subsidiary, T-Mobile USA.

Under the agreement, which U.S. labor officials called unprecedented, German trade union Ver.di will represent T-Mobile USA workers and the Communications Workers of America in talks with Deutsche Telekom managers in Bonn.

CWA, which has been unable to establish representation at T-Mobile USA, the No. 4 U.S. mobile phone service, said it would also launch a new effort to organize workers and open a dialogue with the U.S. subsidiary's managers.

The deal was first unveiled late on Tuesday in a union conference call with workers from T-Mobile USA.

T-Mobile USA issued a statement saying it provides an employee-friendly work atmosphere, with competitive pay and benefits, and that its workers have periodically rejected overtures from CWA.

Of the other three top U.S. mobile phone services -- Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility and Sprint Nextel Corp -- only No. 2-ranked AT&T has a significant union presence, with about 40,000 CWA members on its payroll.

The new alliance comes at a time when the U.S. labor movement hopes Democrats in the White House and Congress can help stem decades of eroding union influence that accelerated sharply under former Republican President George W. Bush.

Labor leaders complain that U.S. labor rights are among the weakest in the industrialized world and charge that European companies with high employment standards at home view the U.S. workplace as an off-shore source of cheap labor.

"We're really here to say to multinational companies, in this case Deutsche Telekom, we're tired of the face of cooperation in Germany ... and then the stick in the United States, the club of intolerance," said CWA President Larry Cohen, who expects other cross-border deals as trade unions try to enhance their influence in the global economy.

"We expect Deutsche Telekom to operate far above the minimum in the United States," added Cohen, accusing T-Mobile USA of subjecting workers who support unionization to intimidation and surveillance.

T-Mobile said it has been subject to a dozen unfair labor practice charges in 10 years but has not been sanctioned or penalized by U.S. authorities. Over the same period, the company said, CWA has been charged with more than 1,200 unfair practices.

"Surely the CWA would agree that the mere filing of unfair labor practice charges is not proof of unlawful conduct," the T-Mobile statement said.

The alliance creates a new union, called TUnion, which gives the 700,000-member CWA access to the influence of Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkshaft, the world's largest union with 2.5 million members across a range of service industries.

Ver.di represents 70 percent of workers employed by Deutsche Telekom and its European subsidiaries. The union recently waged a 12-week strike against the telecommunications giant over issues of job security and working conditions.

Under the agreement, Ver.di will use its seats on Deutsche Telekom's supervisory board to press German managers to accept union representation at T-Mobile USA and then coordinate any bargaining that follows.

"Our role as Ver.di is to use our relationships and our contacts on every level in the company ... to support CWA's efforts here in the United States," said Ver.di official Ado Wilhelm, who appeared alongside Cohen as part of a five-member Ver.di delegation to the United States.

A unionized T-Mobile USA workforce could add substantially to Ver.di's clout. The U.S. subsidiary accounts for nearly 25 percent of Deutsche Telekom's annual revenues and Wilhelm said T-Mobile's business helped maintain the parent company's stability during the economic downturn.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Andre Grenon, Bernard Orr)

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