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E-biz company spells out no-union position

Even though there is no apparent organizing effort under way at The Cobalt Group, a top executive tells employees in an e-mail that unions aren't welcome.

    E-business company The Cobalt Group has a message for would-be labor organizers: No unions wanted.

    Even though there is no apparent organizing effort under way at the Seattle-based business software company, a top executive told employees in an e-mail Friday that unions aren't welcome.

    Alluding to an organizing drive at Amazon.com, Chief Executive John Holt said he valued the ability to have a "direct dialogue" with employees.

    "We have built, and are continually refining, a value-based workplace where the leadership team and you can communicate directly, without a union or other third party inserting itself into the process," Holt wrote.

    "Because clarity on issues like this is important, we have updated the Employee Handbook expressly stating Cobalt's position that a union is not needed here," Holt wrote.

    The e-mail, sent to CNET News.com by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, was confirmed by company representatives.

    Organizing drives are ongoing at Amazon, Etown.com and IBM. None of them has yet formed a union, although the National Labor Relations Board did schedule a union vote at Etown. The NLRB later delayed the vote after union organizers charged the company with unfair labor practices.

    Cobalt spokeswoman Amy Anderson and WashTech organizer Marcus Courtney both said they were unaware of any union activity at the 600-person company.

    The anti-union sentiments in the e-mail "came out of the blue," Courtney said.

    "They obviously feel there is a very real possibility of having a union in this industry or having workers at their company organize," Courtney said.

    Anderson declined to comment on whether Cobalt believes a nascent union movement is forming among its employees. Like most dot-coms, Cobalt has seen its stock plummet in the last year, falling from a 52-week high of $21 to less than $4. However, unlike other Net companies, Cobalt has not had any layoffs, Anderson said.

    "This is an issue that technology companies are dealing with," she said. "We wanted to make everyone aware of our policy."

    Courtney compared the e-mail to actions taken by Amazon and Etown to combat organizing efforts. Amazon, for instance, has distributed a list of frequently asked questions that organizers have deemed anti-union. And union officials have charged Etown with firing leaders of the organizing drive there.

    "This shows that this is an industry that's going to take an us-vs.-them atmosphere regarding these issues," Courtney said.

    The Cobalt Group works with automobile dealers, parts suppliers and manufacturers to create online marketplaces and informational Web sites.