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Amid union tension, Red Cross to cut 63 tele-recruiting jobs

The American Red Cross Blood Services Division is preparing to eliminate 63 mostly part-time jobs at a tele-recruiting center in Buffalo.

The plan was announced last year, but will unfold amid continued tension between the Red Cross and Communications Workers of America Local 1122, which represents the tele-recruiting workers as well as other employees at the Buffalo operation.

The layoffs will affect 60 part-time and three full-time workers, said Marianne Schreyer, a spokeswoman for Red Cross Blood Services' New York-Pennsylvania region.

A notice filed with the state Department of Labor says the layoffs will occur in phases. The first cuts will come June 13, and the last of the cuts are scheduled for July 11.

"It is not a decision taken lightly," Schreyer said. "This shouldn't be a reflection on the quality of their work."

The Red Cross announced last year it would consolidate its 26 tele-recruitment centers into three locations, in Arizona, North Carolina and Nebraska. It set summer 2011 as the target for the closings.

The local tele-recruiting center employees work at offices on Delaware Avenue. They contact blood donors about participating in blood drives.

"Every employee hired since last June has understood these were temporary positions," Schreyer said, noting that call centers tend to have high turnover rates.

The Red Cross is offering resume-writing help to the affected workers and is encouraging them to apply for other jobs in the organization, she said.

The Red Cross described the call center consolidation as a cost-cutting move. But James Wagner, president of CWA Local 1122, said of the plan: "Basically it's a union-busting tactic."

Wagner says the Red Cross is consolidating the work in places that he described as inhospitable to unions, adding that Buffalo's work is going to North Carolina.

CWA Local 1122 also represents about 80 additional workers at the Red Cross operations in Buffalo. Their last contract expired in May 2009, and tensions between the two sides have risen since then.

CWA Local 1122 staged a three-day strike against the Red Cross in June 2010. The union excluded the tele-recruiting workers from that walkout.

The CWA filed four unfair labor practice charges against the Red Cross with the National Labor Relations Board. A trial took place last year, and the verdict is expected to be announced this summer, Wagner said.

Meanwhile, contract talks between the two sides are at a standstill. Wagner said the most recent negotiations occurred last October, just before the trial started.

Wagner said he believes the trial's verdict will be in the CWA's favor, but he also expects the Red Cross to appeal. Wagner alleges the Red Cross wants to drag out the dispute "to delay justice and divide and conquer."

Schreyer said the Red Cross wants to reach agreement on a deal. "We continually remain open to negotiations and suggestions," she said.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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