Union effort emerges at dot-com

Etown.com employees may soon vote union-yes in one of the first union elections at a dot-com company.

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Etown.com employees may soon vote union-yes in one of the first union elections at a dot-com company.

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Dot-coms to unionize?
Bill Wyland, Etown.com union organizer

Seeking job security and a stronger voice in the company's management, the Web site's customer service workers submitted a petition with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday to hold an election on union representation.

"This is an important one, because it's going to set a precedent," said Bill Wyland, a member of the San Jose Newspaper Guild who is helping to lead the organizing effort. "We want the company to be successful. We want the employees to be successful. We're hoping the company will realize this and work with us to bargain a contract."

Etown executives said they were unaware of any official organizing effort, adding that they had not yet received a copy of the representation petition.

"We have nothing to say about a union. That's for employees to decide," said Lew Brown, Etown's chief operating officer. Regardless of the unionization effort, "We will do what we always have done, which is create a good environment--a place where people want to work."

The filing by Etown's employees comes as a similar effort is under way at Amazon.com, where some employees are attempting to organize workers in one of the company's customer service centers.

Unionization efforts have been few and far between in the high-tech industry, thwarted by the promise of lucrative stock options and traditionally low unemployment. But the downturn in the market for Internet and technology stocks this spring has led to layoffs at dozens of companies and workers stuck with worthless options.

Etown, which is owned by Collaborative Media, provides information and reviews on consumer electronics products. The company, which has offices in San Francisco and New York, has some 120 employees.

The company has an "open door" policy for workers to air complaints to supervisors and upper management, Brown said, adding that he has reiterated this policy at recent staff meetings.

"We try to set up a process to hear people out, to hear new ideas, to foster good behavior," Brown said. "That's how you build a good business, and we will continue to do that."

But some employees say the company has repeatedly ignored employee concerns. In recent months, Etown employees have had to contend with erratic schedules, pay raises that were promised but not given, and a constantly changing business model, said Blake Rains, a customer service representative at Etown.

What will they think of next? See CNET Tech Trends "We tried repeatedly to work with management, to come to a mutually beneficial relationship," Rains said. "So far we haven't been able to do that on our own. Now we're here to do that together."

Union representatives say that more than 50 percent of the company's 36 customer service employees signed the representation petition. The NLRB requires the signatures of 30 percent of a designated portion of a company's employees to hold an organizing election.

A union at Etown would be affiliated with the Northern California Media Workers Guild and the Communications Workers of America. Union representatives expect the election to be held by the middle of January.