Human Capital & Careers

First Dot-Com Union Election Postponed (Updated)

Will Etown.com employees try again?
Craig SchneiderJanuary 9, 2001

So much for unionizing dot-coms…at least for awhile.

The first union representation election at an Internet company was put on hold on Monday after union reps filed new unfair labor practice charges against Etown.com.

The impetus for the charges: Etown.com management told employees that there is the possibility that the company would close down or lose contracts or business if a union were formed, according to Erin Poh, a local representative at the Northern California Media Workers Guild.

“It’s poisoned the election,” she says. “There’s no way that these people can hold the election and feel there is any fairness.”

The National Labor Relations Board originally scheduled the election for Friday, January 12.

Interestingly, union organizers twice before requested that the election proceed in spite of unfair labor practice charges it had pending against the company. Last month, Etown.com laid off more than half of the original 32 workers involved in the labor organizing effort who were eligible to vote.

Bob Kristoff, a partner at law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky and Walker in San Francisco, says the change of strategy likely means the employer has been more effective in curbing unionizing interest among employees than the union is letting on. “If a union files an unfair labor charge right before an election and doesn’t request to proceed, it probably means they have lost their support with employees and they don’t want to go through the election because they don’t believe they can win,” Kristoff says.

“We’re confident that the NLRB will find that the charges have absolutely no merit,” says Steve Ramirez, an Etown.com spokesman. “There are strict restrictions on our speech. Not only have we observed them to the letter of the law, but also the spirit.”

“We still have support,” says Poe, “but we want to make sure we can get a contract. It’s not just about the election.”

If the NLRB determines in the investigation that the charges have merit, it can require Etown.com to post a notice admitting its wrongful action and informing employees of their rights for 60 days. Then it can reinstitute the petition and reschedule the election, unless the union withdraws, Kristoff adds.

But all of that can take at least six months. If at that time the union has still not generated enough interest to warrant an election, it will withdraw and have an additional six-month bar before it can approach the workers.

“We’re not giving up,” says Poe. “We’re going to make sure people have the right information, not just one side’s.”

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