Union organizers withdraw one of two complaints against Etown

Union organizers have withdrawn one of two unfair labor practice charges that they recently filed against online consumer-electronics retailer Etown.com in relation to an ongoing attempt to set up a union for workers at the company, according to officials at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Last November, the Northern California Media Workers Guild filed a charge with the NLRB alleging that Etown's management had fired more than a dozen customer service representatives because of their participation in union activities. But Mark Berman, the NLRB's supervising attorney in the matter, said that claim has now been withdrawn.

A spokeswoman at San Francisco-based Etown, which is owned by Collaborative Media Inc., said the company isn't commenting on the matter at this point because it has yet to receive an official notice of the withdrawal from the NLRB. Union representatives, meanwhile, didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

Berman said the NLRB is still investigating a second union charge, filed earlier this month, asserting that Etown's management informed employees that union activities would result in lost business for the company. "No final determination has been made" as to whether that charge has any merit, he said, adding that the board should render a decision by the end of next month.

Etown executives have denied the guild's allegations, which led to a postponement of a scheduled vote on establishing a labor union at the company (see story). Berman said votes on petitions to set up unions typically are delayed when related unfair labor practice charges are filed.

If the union drive ends up succeeding, it would mark the first time that workers at a dot-com company have organized in such a way. But other unionizing efforts are also underway -- for example, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) last fall began a drive 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 today announced plans to close its Seattle customer service center as part of a restructuring plan that also will include laying off 15% of the company's 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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