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Workers at 'Dot-Com' Firms Seek to Unionize

Labor: The NLRB filing for union votes at Etown and ShopAudioVideo is among the first in the industry.

November 29, 2000|From Reuters

Labor organizers have scored what is believed to be their first major success in the "dot-com" world as customer service employees at a San Francisco start-up decided to vote on seeking union representation.

Erin Tyson Poh, a representative of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America, said Tuesday that a petition to certify union representation for about 36 employees at Etown.com and its sister site, ShopAudioVideo.com, had been filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

"Even though it is a relatively small group of people, it is big news for the Internet," Poh said. "It is a group of new economy workers who have decided to organize."

Organizers expect the final vote on certifying union representation to take place in about a month. It was believed to be among the first instances of a union moving into the dot-com world.

Lew Brown, president and chief operating officer of Collaborative Media, the privately held parent company of Etown.com and ShopAudioVideo.com, said news of the workers' decision to consider union representation came as a surprise.

"We haven't been [told] by any union that there has been a petition filed," Brown said. "But obviously I can't stick my head in the sand and I've got to deal with it."

The move to organize Etown.com workers follows a similar effort to unionize customer service representatives at Amazon.com, where the union is trying to gather enough support for an NLRB filing.

Union representatives said the Etown.com decision represents another way dot-coms are being forced to face the same realities that bricks-and-mortar firms do.

The promise of quick growth and stock options was once enough to keep workers satisfied, but the dimming luster of dot-com stocks has led to pressure for improvements in basics such as health care plans, hours and working conditions.

"We want to work for this company, but we want to have a good environment," said Ruben Cadabes, an Etown customer service representative. "This is all about being recognized, and having a voice."

Since organizing work started in October, union representatives have charged the company with terminating four employees for union activity, a charge Brown denied.

Founded in 1995, Etown and ShopAudioVideo employ about 120 people in San Francisco and New York.

About 70% of the customer servicer representatives, who were hired for $11 to $13 per hour plus stock options, expressed interest in union representation, Poh said.

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