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Commentary: Dot-com union efforts--so "Old Economy"

The unionization of customer service workers is nothing new, but Net companies should treat their employees in such a way that unions do not offer an appealing alternative.

By Esteban Kolsky, Gartner Analyst

Unionizing efforts at dot-com companies show customer-service managers that unions do not just belong to the "Old Economy." Companies should treat their employees in such a way that unions do not offer an appealing alternative.

The unionization of customer service

See news story:
Labor pains
workers is nothing new; the customer service departments of many utilities have been unionized for years. Until recently, however, dot-coms, with their cultures of hard work and long hours, thought themselves immune to labor problems.

From management's point of view, unions cannot help but hurt the company's bottom line. Unions drive up costs by requiring employers to pay higher wages, reducing worker hours and protecting less-productive workers. On the other hand, companies cannot fight unionization since most union organizing is perfectly legal. Companies must therefore take a proactive approach to managing employees by adopting policies that show employees they have little to gain in better pay, benefits and working conditions by forming unions.

Gartner research shows that employee unrest often precedes business turmoil, and amid today's dot-com failures and downsizing, companies must realize that contact center workers are as important as technology and processes to the success of an online service business. To prevent unionization efforts, dot-coms must do the same as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, including:

• Budget and implement compensation levels in line with similar positions at other companies.

• Give benefits and perks to employees.

• Set up hiring and retention bonus programs.

Ignoring the kind of employee unrest occurring at e-tailers such as Amazon.com will inevitably create more serious problems down the road.

(For related commentary on unionizing technology workers, see TechRepublic.com--free registration required.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2001 Gartner Group, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.