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Union vote at dot-com company postponed

The first union vote at an Internet-only e-commerce company is put off indefinitely after the union accuses the management at of poisoning the election.

The first union vote at an Internet-only e-commerce company has been put off indefinitely after the union on Monday accused of poisoning the election and requested the delay.

Etown management told employees that the company would lose business and be forced to shut down if a union were formed, said Erin Tyson Poh, a local representative at the Northern California Media Workers Guild. The guild is leading the organizing drive at Etown, a company that provides information and reviews on consumer electronics products.

"They were successful in poisoning the unit, so that we don't feel a fair election can take place at this time," Poh said.

But representatives of San Francisco-based Etown denied the charges.

"That's absolutely not true," said Lew Brown, chief operating officer of Etown. Noting that the company has more than 100 employees and contract workers, he said, "The idea that we would close the company down for 13 employees that would want to unionize is about as far-fetched as you can get.

"We have employees and investors that we have a fiduciary responsibility to, and closing down is not one of those options."

The guild filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), accusing Etown of illegally tampering with workers' rights, union and NLRB sources said. The NLRB will need to investigate the charges before a new union vote date can be set.

The guild had filed previous charges with the NLRB accusing the company of illegally trying to influence the election by firing leaders in the unionization effort and laying off more than half of the company's 36 customer service workers.

Despite the union's charges, Brown speculated that the union's decision to delay the election was because of a lack of interest by workers. "The union is trying to save face," he said.

Poh said she was not surprised at the company's stance, adding that the guild has employee reports to back up its allegations of tampering.

The vote at Etown, which was scheduled for Friday, would have been the first NLRB-sanctioned union election at an Internet company. If a union is formed, it will mark one of the first successful organizing drives at a high-tech company.

Etown said in December that it laid off 22 percent of its staff the previous month, including 13 of its customer service workers. At the time, company executives denied that the layoffs were connected to the union effort.