Workers from wireless authorized retail stores claim wage theft

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the National Employment Law Project (NELP) published a report today, making some damning charges against the top three wireless carriers in terms of the treatment of retail workers. They say the big three U.S. wireless carriers have transitioned much of their retail operations from carrier-owned stores to third-party authorized retail stores as a tactic to treat workers worse without having to deal with unions.

CWA and the NELP surveyed 204 authorized retail workers from 43 states at AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile. The survey included online questions and a series of telephone interviews. The respondents were a mix of current and former employees.

Some of the most egregious employment-related allegations related to wage theft.

Workers at authorized retailers were asked whether they had experienced various forms of wage theft in the three months prior to the survey. 186 of the 204 respondents reported that an employer had stolen wages from them in at least one of four ways — paid them below the minimum wage rate, denied them overtime premiums, denied them due commissions or bonuses or incentive payments, or required them to work off the clock.

One respondent who works as an authorized retailer in Alabama said his store has a faulty performance tracking system with perpetual “system issues” that favor the store owner and rip off the employees.

Survey respondents also complained about unstable and disrespectful work schedules. Of the 204 respondents, 163 reported that their hours or work-days changed from one week to the next. And 134 of 204 reported that they were unable to take meal or rest breaks during their shift.

Cassandra Lopez Rosario, a former employee of Master Wireless, an AT&T authorized retailer, told Fierce that she was fired in December 2021 while she had Covid. She had fallen sick while working and had to be taken to the hospital. While she was very ill over the next several days, she didn’t call in to the store and as a result was fired. She thinks the company may not have paid her all her commissions in her final paycheck. But she said, “To be honest, I never knew how the metric system worked.”

Authorized retailers

CWA and NELP claim that the trend toward more authorized retailers and less official wireless stores is partly due to the fact that some workers have unionized at the corporate stores of the carriers.

“Stores run by third parties may look identical to corporate stores, aside from a small ‘Authorized Retailer’ label on the storefront window,” stated the report. “However, differences in job quality and customer service quality between corporate stores and authorized retailers can be stark.”

According to CWA and NELP, wireless carriers outsource between 60% to 80% of their branded retail locations to authorized retailers. And Wave7 Research principal Jeff Moore said those numbers sound accurate.

AT&T’s largest authorized retailer, Prime Communications, operates nearly 2,000 AT&T-branded stores nationwide. 

Verizon’s largest authorized retailer is Victra. Moore said it has about 1,600 stores. Another Verizon authorized dealer is Round Room, which Moore said “is not that far behind Victra.”

According to Wave7 Research, T-Mobile’s largest authorized dealer is Wireless Vision with more than 650 stores, followed by GP Mobile.

CWA and NELP say that about 9 in 10 authorized retail workers surveyed reported that the wireless carrier that licensed their direct employer played a role in setting policies and practices at their workplace, raising doubts about authorized retailers’ status as independent employers.

CWA chart

They say that the use of outsourced retail stores has had detrimental effects on workers who play an integral role in the success of the carriers’ businesses.