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VERIZON'S FINGERS WALK TO COURT OVER UNION AT YELLOW PAGES

The strike against Verizon Communications ended last August, but the labor battles at the phone company continue to rumble.

About 100 advertising salespeople for Verizon Yellow Pages in Amherst are caught up in a statewide fight between the telephone giant and the Communications Workers of America over whether they are union members.

The union claims to have won the workers over in an organizing drive in April, but Verizon disputes the claim and is fighting it in court.

The union staged demonstrations in New York City on Wednesday that attracted AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and other top labor officials.

At the heart of the dispute is an agreement giving the union streamlined organizing procedures at Verizon's Yellow Pages and wireless phone operations, a key part of the strike settlement 10 months ago.

"The agreement is pretty clear, but they decided they're going to stonewall it," said Don Loretto, president of CWA Local 1122 in Buffalo.

But Verizon says that the union broke the agreement by distributing misinformation to employees it sought to organize.

"We were following the process we agreed to follow with the CWA -- they did not," said Stephanie Hobbs, spokesperson for Verizon Information Services, which operates the Yellow Pages business.

The Verizon Yellow Pages sales site on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst is the largest in upstate New York, according to union officials.

In April, Yellow Pages workers throughout the state approved the union by 79 percent in a "card check" process that was certified by the American Arbitration Association, said Jeff Lacher, CWA district organizing director.

A card check is a streamlined show of support that can take the place of a formal labor board election, if both the union and employer agree to abide by the results.

Now, Verizon says that a number of workers are asking to rescind their support for the union. The CWA counters that the change of heart came because of management pressure tactics, and sticks by the results of the card check.

The courts and the National Labor Relations Board will eventually decide the issue. The CWA has filed unfair labor charges with the NLRB in New York, while Verizon has filed in federal court to block the union's certification.

Verizon Yellow Pages has unionized workers in other regions, part of Verizon's 140,000 union-represented work force, Hobbs said. "The charges of union busting are ridiculous," she said.

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