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Union withdraws labor charge against Etown

Union organizers at Etown.com withdraw one of their two charges of unfair labor practice against the San Francisco-based company.

    Union organizers at Etown.com have withdrawn one of their two charges of unfair labor practice against the San Francisco-based company.

    The charge related to accusations by organizers that Etown, which provides news and reviews on electronics products, had illegally fired leaders and sympathizers of the union movement because of the union activities. The withdrawal of the charge could hasten the rescheduling of an election on union representation, which would be the first-ever at a dot-com company.

    The National Labor Relations Board, which will sanction the election, has been investigating two separate unfair labor practice charges filed against Etown by the Northern California Media Workers Guild, which is leading the organizing drive.

    The completion of the NLRB's investigation into the first charge, which was filed last fall, prompted union representatives to withdraw the charge, said Mark Berman, the supervising attorney at the NLRB's San Francisco office. The NLRB has approved that withdrawal and is in the process of notifying Etown and the guild, Berman said.

    The guild filed a second charge earlier this month, accusing the company of illegally trying to influence the election by telling workers that a successful union effort could force Etown to shut down. The NLRB could complete its investigation of the second charge, which prompted the guild to postpone the election, by the end of this week, Berman said.

    "Hopefully, by the end of this week, we'll be in a position to tell you whether we're still investigating the charge, whether it has been withdrawn or dismissed," Berman said.

    Guild representatives declined to comment, but they did confirm that they had withdrawn the charge. An Etown representative declined to comment, saying the company had not yet been officially notified of the withdrawal.

    The representation election has been on hold pending the outcome of the two charges. Harvey Dascho, an examiner supervisor at the NLRB's San Francisco office, said the election could be held within four weeks if the remaining unfair labor practice charge is resolved this week.

    "That would be our goal, unless someone gave us a reason why it shouldn't occur there," he said.

    Etown's customer service workers began a movement to organize themselves last fall, wanting greater job security and a voice in management. The movement began with a "sickout" in early October, in which many of the company's customer service workers called in sick to hold a meeting to discuss work conditions. By late November, organizers had gathered enough signatures to force an NLRB-sanctioned vote on representation.

    But the movement was anything but smooth. Immediately following the sickout, the company fired two of the so-called leaders of the nascent labor movement. Days after union filed its petition for representation, Etown laid off 22 percent of its staff, including 13 of its 36 customer service workers.

    The firings and the layoffs were the subject of the withdrawn unfair labor practice charge.