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A federal appeals court has ruled against a BellSouth Corp. policy that required workers to wear a uniform bearing a union insignia. A three judge panel on Tuesday overturned a 2001 National Labor Relations Board decision upholding the policy, which required workers to wear uniforms with both the BellSouth logo and the insignia of the Communications Workers of America. The decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Richmond, Va., stems from a 1996 complaint by two BellSouth service technicians from Charlotte, N.C. The men, Gary Lee and James Amburn, who were not members of the union, objected to an agreement between BellSouth and CWA that all workers, regardless of union affiliation, wear both logos on their uniforms. The NLRB eventually ruled in favor of the policy, saying that the placement of the two logos on the uniforms was allowable as a special circumstance because, together, they conveyed a message of labor-management partnership rather than union support. But in its ruling Tuesday, the appeals court said it found no evidence of such a special circumstance. Without it, the uniform policy violated workers’ right to refrain from union activity, the court said. “It is entirely reasonable that a person viewing an employee wearing union insignia would assume that the employee is a union member and supports the union,” the court said. The panel remanded the matter back to the NLRB, with instructions to modify its order consistent with the court ruling. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an anti-union group that represented the workers in the case, hailed the ruling Wednesday. “No worker should be forced to be a walking billboard for a union seeking to trample their own freedoms,” Stefan Gleason, the group’s vice president, said in a written release. The ruling helps reverse the NLRB’s “institutional bias” in favor of unions, he said. A spokeswoman for the CWA said the union was dismayed by the ruling. “We’re disappointed, I think, in the decision,” said the spokeswoman, Candice Johnson. “This had been mutually agreed to by the CWA and BellSouth. We have a good working partnership with the company and it was important to have both our union logo and the company’s insignia” on the uniforms. BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher said the Atlanta-based company would wait further clarification from the NLRB. The union represents about 45,000 of the BellSouth’s approximately 63,000 workers. The labor contract and uniform policy that prompted the original complaint only covered the years 1995 to 1998. But Battcher said the company and union recently agreed to a new five-year contract that once again stipulates a uniform with both logos, one over each breast pocket. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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