Union charges Ikea with violating code of conduct

The International Association of Machinist charged Ikea, the giant Swedish furniture retailer, with violating it own code of conduct after the company’s US subsidiary that manufacturers furniture for Ikea stores interfered with its workers’ union organizing campaign.

Workers at the Danville, Virginia plant operated by Swedwood, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ikea, on June 20 filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to hold a union representation election for hourly, non-supervisory workers at the plant.

The day after the petition was filed, the company requested that 30 “Team Captains,” who perform supervisory work at the Swedwood plant, which includes disciplining workers and making recommendations regarding the hiring and firing of workers, be included in the proposed bargaining unit and be allowed to vote in the representation election.

The IAM, which is helping the Danville workers organize, called Swedwood’s request to include Team Captains in the election interference with their employees right to join a union. “There is only one reason for Swedwood to demand that Team Captains be in the union (and) that is to influence the outcome of the election,” said Bill Street, IAM’s director of its woodworking department.

According to IWAY, Ikea’s company code of conduct, Ikea supports each of its worker’s right to join or not join a union “without fear of reprisal, interference, intimidation, or harassment.”

Workers at Swedwood have been trying to organize a union for well over a year now. Their main reasons for wanting a union are low pay, too much forced overtime, and the company’s overuse of temporary workers, a practice that the company has since curtailed.

In response to its workers complaints, Swedwood hired an independent auditing company to examine its working conditions. The audit found that the company relied too heavily on forced overtime. Subsequently, Swedwood cut back its use of forced overtime.

But Street told the Los Angeles Times that while forced overtime subsided a bit after the results of the audit were released, it didn’t take long for the company to revert back to its old practices.

In a media release, IAM said that Swedwood’s decision to force Team Captains into the bargaining unit was ironic in light of the Ikea’s corporate code, which states that the company will not interfere with their workers’ right to free association. “I guess (the corporate code) doesn’t apply to the Swedwood workers who do not wish to associate with Team Captains or the Team Captains who do not wish to associate with the union,” Street said. “It will be interesting to hear how Swedwood will defend taking choice away from workers to decide who they want in their own union.”

The union also said that if Team Captains wish to join a union, the IAM would be glad to represent them as a bargaining unit separate from the company’s hourly workers.

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3 thoughts on “Union charges Ikea with violating code of conduct

  1. I thought people like “Team Captains” could not legally be in the bargaining unit because they would be classified as supervisors. I’m thinking of the Kentucky River decision where the courts (Supreme Court?) decided that charge nurses could not be in a general hospital employees union (even though an RN may be assigned to be a charge nurse one day and a staff nurse the next day, and has no power to hire or fire). So can charge nurses be in a separate RN union (e.g., NNU)? As your article suggests Team Captains could have their own bargaining unit?

    This is all quite confusing to me.

    • One of the things that the NLRB does is that it decides who can be in the bargaining unit. It takes a lot of things into consideration when making this decision. Generally supervisors can’t be in the bargaining unit. If the union decides to contest the company’s request, it will likely argue that Team Captains are supervisors and should be excluded from the bargaining unit. The company has nothing to lose by making this request. If the union doesn’t challenge the request, more anti-union workers will have a vote in the election; if the union challenges the request, a hearing will be held delaying the election giving the company more time to conduct its anti-union campaign.

  2. Thanks for the explanation, Will. Sounds like a win-win for the employer, given your last comment. Yuck.

    So I guess in the Kentucky River case it was the employer who challenged whether the RN’s could be in the bargaining unit? I thought at the time that the decision meant RN’s could not be in a union, period. But that can’t be correct (?); otherwise the NNU would lose a large part of its base.

    So can supervisors have their own bargaining unit? As long as it does not include the managers of the supervisors???

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