Union withdraws second charge against Etown

Union organizers have withdrawn a second unfair labor practices charge that it filed last month against online consumer-electronics review site Etown.com, paving the way for a unionization vote, which, if successful, would be a first for a dot-com company.

Union representatives didn't return phone calls seeking comment by deadline.

In January, the Northern California Media Workers Guild filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) saying that Etown's management had informed employees that union activities would result in lost business for the company. NLRB officials confirmed yesterday that the union had withdrawn the charge.

The union had previously filed a separate unfair labor practices charge alleging that Etown's management had fired more than a dozen customer service representatives because of participation in union activities. That charge was dropped earlier this week (see story).

In the absence of any unfair labor practice charges, "there are no obstacles to running a [union] election," said Mark Berman, a supervising attorney in the NLRB's San Francisco office. "If an unfair labor practice charge is filed while a [union] election is pending, that in most circumstances [will delay] a vote unless the union files a request to proceed," he said.

Christine Card, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Etown, which is owned by Collaborative Media Inc., said that though the company hasn't been officially notified, Etown maintains that it "had been saying all along that these charges aren't true."

"We're looking forward to allowing employees to make a decision that's best for them. Now that the union has withdrawn these two charges, there is now nothing blocking a [union] election from" taking place, she said.

Unionizing efforts are also under way at other dot-com companies. The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) for example, began a drive last fall to organize customer service representatives at Amazon.com Inc.'s headquarters in Seattle (see story).

However, the WashTech effort may have come too late: Amazon on Tuesday said it plans to close its Seattle customer service center as part of a restructuring plan that also includes laying off 15% of its workers (see story). Amazon executives said the cutbacks are aimed at helping the online retailer reach operating profitability on a pro forma basis by late this year, despite the softening economy.

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