Union Drops One Charge, Still Pushing To Unionize Etown

Union organizers building what could be the first union ever at a dot-com last week dropped one of two charges of unfair labor practices against consumer-electronics site Etown.com. Organizers had alleged that Etown illegally fired employees involved in the unionization effort, but they've withdrawn the charge after learning that the National Labor Relations Board determined the fired employees could be considered supervisors and were thus not protected under labor law. A second charge, related to Etown execs' threat to close the company if employees unionized, is still pending.

The labor battle began in November when customer-service employees at Etown submitted a petition to the NLRB requesting a vote for union representation. Bill Wyland, an organizer with the Communications Workers of America, says Etown then fired about 25% of its workforce, including more than a dozen of the customer-service workers. "The bargaining unit in the customer-service department was gutted pretty quickly," he says.

Local union reps at the Northern California Media Workers Guild subsequently filed a charge of unfair labor practices against the company. In January, the guild--a chapter of the Communications Workers of America--filed another charge, alleging that the company had held mandatory meetings to "cause fear and to dissuade employees from organizing."

Wyland expects the remaining charge to be heard in the next week. He says the representation vote is on hold until the charges are settled, but that the Communications Workers of America is proceeding with its plans. Says Wyland, "We're hopeful that once the charges are settled, we're going to be able to have a fair vote."

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