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DESTRUCTION IN MANHATTAN PUTS AREA VERIZON LABOR DISPUTE ON HOLD

A labor dispute involving about 100 Verizon Yellow Pages workers in Amherst is on hold while federal regulators in New York shift their office from the zone of destruction in lower Manhattan.

At the time of last week's attack, the National Labor Relations Board was preparing to file 86 labor charges against the Verizon unit, according to a letter the agency sent to the Communications Workers of America.

But the New York office responsible for the case, located in a federal complex a few blocks from the destroyed World Trade Center, has been closed since Sept. 11. A temporary office has been designated but officials there couldn't be reached by phone this week.

The labor charges stem from a union election in April that Verizon is contesting in federal court.

"What we have documented . . . is a company-wide conspiracy to intimidate these employees into rescinding their union cards," CWA President Morton Bahr said in a statement.

The CWA won 79 percent approval in the election, but Verizon says many employees have since withdrawn their support.

Verizon spokesperson Heidi Jaquish said the company tried to look into the union's charges but received no specifics from the union.

"We are completely committed to allowing our employees free choice when it comes to their participation in a union," she said. Units of the Yellow Pages business, called Verizon Information Services, are already unionized in New England, Pennsylvania and other states.

Of the 86 charges supported by the NLRB, 20 have to do with the company's Buffalo-area office on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst, where Verizon Information Services employs about 100 advertising salespeople.

According to the NLRB letter, managers threatened loss of benefits and suggested that job losses would result if the Yellow Pages business was unionized. The finding by the labor board sets the stage for a hearing, unless a settlement is reached.

The election was conducted under a "card check" process instead of a full NLRB election. An arbitrator certified the results but Verizon says the election is invalid and doesn't recognize the union.

Since the election, many of the ad salespeople working smaller accounts have left the company, said Don Loretto, president of CWA 1122 in Buffalo. His union is representing the Yellow Pages workers as well as other Verizon employees in Buffalo.

Under the settlement of a strike last August, Verizon agreed to the card check process for its Yellow Pages and wireless services businesses. But instead of ending hostilities, the strike settlement has left a legacy of rancor and finger-pointing.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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