January 26, 2001, 2:39 PM — As more Web-related firms dismiss technology workers each week, the time may finally be ripe for IT unions, according to labor officials.
Nationwide, job cuts at Internet firms rose almost 20% from November to December, to a total of 19,248 for both months, according to Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. Just last week, Cable News Network, an Atlanta-based unit of the newly formed AOL Time Warner Inc., laid off 400 employees, one-third of whom were online staffers.
"The sooner people band together for mutual relief, the better they are facing things like layoffs," said Erin Poh, a representative of the Northern California Media Workers Guild, which is working to organize a union at San Francisco-based online consumer-electronics firm Etown.com.
But critics argued that in spite of the economic downturn, unions aren't well-suited to the needs of technology workers and will only exacerbate their problems.
Lew Brown, Etown's president and chief operating officer, contends that unlike unions, which have a "political agenda," he cares about his employees' jobs and well-being.
Poh said unions can't prevent layoffs, nor is it their intention to put anyone out of business. But as dot-coms feel the financial squeeze, labor is the first to go, Poh said.
Workers with a collective bargaining agreement, however, can choose to have salaries cut or reduce the workweek as an alternative to layoffs.
That might have helped workers at Stamford, Conn.-based research company Walker Digital. On Jan. 11, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed a federal lawsuit against the firm, claiming that it failed to provide adequate notice before laying off 106 workers in November.
Other Organizing Efforts
The Etown.com situation is only one of several efforts under way to organize high-tech workers. In October, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) began a drive to organize customer service representatives at Amazon.com Inc.'s headquarters.
"If dot-com workers are concerned about job security, advancement and training, now is the time to talk about this with co-workers," said WashTech organizer Gretchen Wilson. "Once you are [laid off], you are powerless." Since the Amazon.com union drive became public, customer service representatives haven't been required to work mandatory overtime, even during the holiday season, she said.