Dot-Com Unions Belong in the Shakeout Blender

Dot-coms don’t need unions. In fact, there are few sectors in the modern economy that do any more.

As if to prove a point, e-commerce companies saddled with the potential burden of carrying union employees on their backs are getting shoved into the shakeout blender even faster than their non-union counterparts.

The recent effort to form a union at Web electronics store eTown.com, for example, hit a bit of a snag. Seems the company ran out of money and gave up the ghost a few weeks before a union vote.

It’s unlikely eTown closed solely to avoid becoming the first dot-com union shop, but the union got what it deserved in that case. Hopefully, between that abrupt decision and the foot-stamping that Amazon did to put out the union fire in its customer-service area, the e-unions debate will go away for a while. If not forever.

Weakest Link

Here’s the union proposition to a dot-com: Your employees now stand united. So if the weakest among us screws up, you’re going to have to jump through hoops to fire or reprimand the slacker. Furthermore, if you want to reward your hardest-working union member, his or her rewards are going to have to be shared with everyone else in the bargaining unit.

That scenario goes against everything that the so-called New Economy was supposed to bring to the forefront: Innovation, personal success, direct rewards for sacrifices made.

Unions had their heyday and it was a long time ago. Today, they do more to embarrass themselves than help their members. They flex their muscle and, too often, get what they want for political reasons.

A Model Life

Well, this ain’t the political arena, ladies and gents. In case you haven’t noticed, the dot-com world is built on an entrepreneurial model. Those who make the effort, who have the ideas and who execute their plans get ahead and stay ahead.

Is there a moral requirement to share the wealth? Absolutely. However, trying to regulate the distribution of wealth through a union effort that is anything but grass roots is an attempt to force these companies and their workers to behave in a way that is not natural to them.

No one thought about organizing Amazon until the stock options they held went under water. Then all of a sudden they were being treated badly. Were they drugged when they agreed to go to work for the e-tailer? Hell, no. A little drunk with greed, maybe, but that was their own doing, not because of something Jeff Bezos slipped into their coffee.

Here’s news: There are thousands of executives whose stock is equally soggy as well. Yes, they get more base salary, but many of them also counted on their options being worth something when they took their jobs. They may be complaining, but they’re not looking for a handout because they know it was a risky proposition to begin with.

Leader of the Pack

In fact, I hear very few of the workers who would be the rank-and-file of any dot-com unions making too much noise. Maybe there’s an element of fear, but I don’t think so. The efforts to unionize are being staged mostly outside these companies by outsiders.

That is, in part, why the efforts have taken so long to get going and why none of the companies involved has actually had a decisive vote yet.

I would like to believe that Amazon and eTown made their decisions to lay off workers to kick union sympathizers in the backside, although that’s probably not the case. Even so, I hope their actions, for whatever reasons they were made, serve as a big fat slap in the union’s face as well.

It’s time to wake up and realize this is the 21st century. No one is working 60 hours a week for a dot-com unless they want to. No one is taking stock options because they’re being forced to. They saw dollar signs and dreamed the dream along with everyone else.

Just because their dreams got postponed for a long time — if not doused completely — is no reason to try to ruin those same dreams for a lot more people. That is exactly what unions would do. Ruin it for the rest of us.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


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