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Tech Industry

Etown shuts down

The company lays off its entire staff and shuts down operations, one month after its workers were scheduled to vote on union representation.

    Etown.com laid off its entire staff and shut down operations on Wednesday, one month after the San Francisco-based company's workers were scheduled to vote on union representation.

    Etown, which provided news and reviews about consumer electronics products, has run out of money, said Robert Heiblim, the company's chief executive. The company did not have the money to pay workers any kind of severance package; instead, the company transferred its remaining assets to Best Buy, one of its investors, Heiblim said.

    Despite the shutdown, Heiblim called the setback "temporary," saying he was still looking for additional funding for the company.

    "We're not going to give up trying to find financing," Heiblim said. "But we have to let people go because we can't pay them. If next week I find someone to give me funds, I'll see if can get people to come back to work."

    Last fall, Etown laid off 22 percent of its staff to cut costs. Before Wednesday's shutdown, the company had about 101 employees. The company laid off its entire staff, including executives.

    Etown was the scene of one of the first dot-com labor movements. After organizing last fall, the company's customer service workers filed a petition with National Labor Relations Board for a union representation election.

    The NLRB scheduled that election for last month but postponed it after union representatives filed unfair labor practice charges.

    Union representatives withdrew those charges in recent weeks, and NLRB officials had begun talking with both sides to reschedule the election.

    Despite the publicity surrounding the union effort, Heiblim said the labor movement had little to do with Etown's demise. Etown was forced to close shop because it couldn't secure more financing, a result of the depressed financial markets, not Etown's union movement, Heiblim said.

    The union movement "was no factor. It just didn't come up," he said.

    Erin Tyson Poh, an organizer with the Northern California Media Workers Guild, said Etown's demise shouldn't be blamed on the union effort, but on management decisions and the economic downturn. The guild will be working with former Etown employees to help them secure their personal belongings or outstanding pay, she said.

    "We really feel for employees that lost their jobs," Poh said. "Unions don't exist to put businesses out of business."