IKEA workers in Canada resist company’s bullying

In an attempt to bully workers into accepting concessions, IKEA in Richmond, British Columbia has locked out 350 members of Teamsters Local 213 who work at the store. The lockout began on May 13 after 84 percent of Local 213 members rejected the company’s contract offer, which included a two-tiered wage system that will reduce wages for new employees.

Current employees would have seen cuts as well. “IKEA is offering a reduced contract including a tiered wage system which will see some existing employees getting reduced wages and benefits,” said Anita Dawson, Local 213’s business representative and a former IKEA worker. ” The company is also trying to force concessions in hours of work, allowances, benefits, and work classifications on its workers.”

Since the lockout began, IKEA has been putting pressure on workers to return to work under the terms of the contract that was overwhelmingly rejected in May. The Teamsters are willing to return to work but only under the terms of the recently expired contract.

“The company wants us to come back under the terms of their new contract offer,” said Dawson. “We are willing to resume work under the terms of our old contract with only a few small changes while we bargain, but not under the new and reduced terms of IKEA’s offer. They are trying to bully our members back to work under worse conditions, and it isn’t going to succeed.”

IKEA has told workers that if they don’t return to work under the terms of the rejected contract, the company will impose more concessions and that the concessions will grow steeper if the workers continue to stay off the job. On June 3, the company began carrying out its threat by eliminating a CAD$500 signing bonus from its original contract offer. Five days later, IKEA imposed a cap on payments for prescription drugs.

Dawson called IKEA’s attempt at intimidation “backward bargaining.”

Dawson said that IKEA’s bullying tactics have gone beyond imposing concessions on workers and have included harassing phone calls to union members.

IKEA has kept the Richmond store open with a skeleton staff, but has had to reduce hours of operation because of its limited staffing.

Near the beginning of the lockout, IKEA tried to hire replacement workers, but the province labor board ruled that the company’s attempt to do so violated the province’s labor law.

On June 24, Local 213 held a rally at another IKEA store about four hours away in Kelowna.

The rally was attended by Local 213 members and supporters from other Teamster locals, the Canadian Union of Public Workers ( CUPW), the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers Association and other unions.

Speaking at the rally, Jim Sinclair, president of the British Columbia Federation of Labor, told the audience that more workers than just Local 213 members are affected by the IKEA lockout.

“The reason we are here today is because this is not about the Teamsters or IKEA,” said Sinclair. “It’s about the labor movement and what happens to working class people. A two-tiered wage system is a cancer in working class people. It makes us divided.”

Sinclair also said that IKEA’s demand for concessions and its bullying tactics is an attempt to weaken workers’ power and assert more control over workers.

“This company is filthy rich,” he said. “It makes billions of dollars a year. This is not about money, its about power. (IKEA) can afford to pay higher wages,” but refusing to do so is a way of asserting its power over its workers. If they can get away with this, other companies will try to do so as well.

Local 213 has called on its supporters to not shop at the IKEA Richmond store or the one in Kelowna.

“IKEA’s butting heads with the biggest union in North America and thought they could bully us,” said Dawson. “Well, they (are) wrong.”

Global alliance targets IKEA for its two-tier labor system

A global union alliance of IKEA workers held solidarity demonstrations on June 19 in a dozen different countries to shine a light on IKEA’s poor labor standards practices in Turkey and other countries. IKEA, a $20 billion a year retail Sweden-based, furniture company with operations in 40 countries, has a reputation in Northern European countries for honoring its workers right to join unions and bargain collectively, but the company is much less union friendly in other countries.

Last year, unions whose members work for IKEA formed an international alliance to support each others efforts to achieve on-the-job justice at IKEA. The alliance named itself UNI  Global Union Alliance at IKEA. The alliance is affiliated with UNI Global Union, a confederation of 900 unions in 150 countries that describes itself as “the voice of 20 million service sector workers around the world.”

The alliance designated June 19 as a day of solidarity that kicks off its international campaign aimed at making the public aware of IKEA’s failure to implement internationally the same labor standards enjoyed by its workers in Sweden and other nearby countries.

“The Alliance is stepping up its action because of IKEA’s failure to take responsibility and live up to the values it professes, away from home,” said, Alke Boessiger said head of UNI Commerce. “We are not talking about isolated incidents. There are cases of unfair dismissals, unilateral reduction of benefits and increased workload, management support for fake unions, and other attacks on labor rights across the company’s global operations. IKEA has no excuses – it cannot operate a two-tier system.”

Boessiger said that the Alliance is making the following demands on IKEA:

  • To be consistent in their approach to labor relations and social dialogue.
  • To respect the right of all IKEA workers to join a union.
  • To guarantee union access to workers
  • To sign a Global Framework Agreement with UNI covering all IKEA stores

Owners of the IKEA franchise in Turkey have been especially dismissive of workers rights to free association, the internationally recognized term for a worker’s right to join a union.

Turkey IKEA workers at the five IKEA stores in Turkey began organizing a union in 2011. So far about one-third of Turkey IKEA workers have joined KOOP-IS, the country’s largest service sector union.

To win recognition and the right to bargain collectively under Turkish law at least half the IKEA workers need to join KOOP-IS.

To prevent KOOP-IS from achieving a majority status, Mapa Mobiya, a Turkish holding company that owns the IKEA franchise in Turkey, has employed tactics similar to those developed and implemented by union avoidance companies in the US.

KOOP-IS says that the company has bribed workers to resign from the union or not join. The company also holds compulsory captive audience meetings where workers are presented only an anti-union message, conducts anti-union one-on-one meetings with individuals, indoctrinates new employees with its anti-union message, and excludes pro-union voices from work.

KOOP-IS also charges Turkey IKEA with acts of intimidation and retaliation that include unfair performance evaluations for union supporters, harassment of union supporters on the job, and a barrage of anti-union comments from management.

“Why we cannot get more workers to sign up is simply the intimidation from the local management, which threatens workers with lack of promotions, harder shifts or even dismissal,” said KOOP-IS spokesman, Deniz Akdogan.

“Our members are called by their employer to a room and forced resign from the union,” said KOOP-IS President Eyüp Alemdar.

Pressure is especially intense at the IKEA headquarters office and the IKEA Ankara Store, he added.

Turkey is not the only country targeted by the global alliance of IKEA workers. IKEA in Russia, the Czech Republic, Ireland, and the USA have also been cited for ignoring worker rights.

In the US, IKEA workers in Danville, Virginia won a successful organizing drive that led to the recognition of their union, the IAM, in 2011. The organizing campaign was contentious, and IKEA fought hard, and the IAM asserts, unfairly to keep the union out.

Since then, the IAM has successfully conducted organizing campaigns at three IKEA distribution centers in Perryville, Maryland, Savannah, Georgia, and Westhampton, New Jersey.

The IAM Woodworkers Department is a member of the UNI Global Union Alliance at IKEA.

GE insists on moving work to low-wage Texas, UE vows to “keep it made in Erie”

Despite robust and growing profits, GE Transportation continues to seek ways to drive down labor costs. GE’s quest for cheaper labor has put it on a collision course with UE Local 506 members who make locomotives and off-highway vehicles at the GE plant in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Local 506 President Scott Duke announced on June 23 that the union and GE had been unable to reach an agreement on how to save 950 good paying union jobs at the Erie plant, which employs about 5,000 people.

GE plans to ship those jobs to its non-union plant in Fort Worth, Texas where the average wage is about $10 an hour less than the wages paid at the Erie plant.

Duke said that despite the lack of an agreement, Local 506 leaders and members remain committed to saving the jobs at Erie. “We are now evaluating all possible options,” said Duke. “UE officials will be speaking to company officials on Monday.”

Duke did not elaborate on what union officials and GE management would be talking about on Monday.

Duke said that UE’s campaign to keep the jobs in Erie would continue and that Local 506 leaders would meet immediately to consider the union’s next move, which may include “pursuing existing NLRB charges, additional legal challenges, and all possible labor actions.”

After signing the current collective bargaining agreement with Local 506, GE Transportation in 2011 doubled its 2010 profits to more than $750 million. In 2012, GE Transportation reported a profit of $1 billion.

But in April, GE executives told the union that it was moving some of the work done in Erie to Fort Worth.

Union officials began negotiating with GE to save the jobs and mounted a multi-pronged campaign to keep the jobs in Erie. The theme of the campaign is “Keep it made in Erie.”

During negotiations, the union proposed work rule and other efficiency changes that would save GE $26 million.

In a message to members dated June 18, UE Local 506 said that “the savings will be achieved by correcting the parts-flow issue in the plant, reducing absenteeism, rearranging the break schedule, and eliminating costly severance and retraining costs that would be caused by the job cutbacks which GE proposed on April 9. The union’s proposal requires the company to guarantee that none of the 950 jobs can be moved prior to June 21, 2015, when the UE-GE National Agreement expires.”

But GE refused Local 506’s cost saving proposal and instead demanded that the union agree to a wage freeze and a two-tiered wage system that would reduce wages for newly hired workers.

“We met with our members last week and they strongly instructed us not to accept the wage freezes, two-tier wages, mandatory overtime, and other types of wage cutting demanded by GE, said Duke.

GE during negotiations has insisted that the purpose of transferring work to Fort Worth was to improve efficiency, not to cut wages.

But an independent study by the accounting firm of Schaffner, Knight, Minnaugh and Co. given to the company last week by Local 506 finds that locomotion production at the Erie plant is twice as efficient as the same production in Fort Worth. The study also finds that off-highway vehicle production is more efficient in Erie.

The study’s findings appear to discredit GE’s assertion about its motive for moving work to Fort Worth.

Duke on Sunday said that Local 506 members feel betrayed by the company.

“GE Transportation made billions of dollars largely from our labor and leads the world in locomotive production, winning (the) GE business of the year (award in 2012),” said Duke.  “We helped them win the Super Bowl and all along they were planning to fire the team. They engaged in the secret transfer of work while we were helping them make those profits.  This whole bargaining process was an attempt to get us to approve something that they had already started to carry out.”

Because of the current collective bargaining agreement, the jobs cannot be moved to Fort Worth until October.

Nurses host Stop Austerity, Stop Keystone XL Bridgewalk in San Francisco

A large poster with the message, “Stop Austerity, Stop Keystone XL” was prominently displayed as about 1,500 union and environmental activists on June 20 marched across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to express their opposition to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,700 mile pipeline that when completed will transport 900,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to Texas.

The June 20 Stop Austerity, Stop Keystone XL Bridgewalk was organized by National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of registered nurses. NNU opposes the pipeline because of the union’s concerns about the pipeline’s impact on public health and climate change.

“Nurses today care for scores of patients struggling with serious health problems, from lung disease to heart attacks, to cancer, that are linked to environmental pollution,” said Karen Higgins, co-president of NNU in a statement announcing the action. “The Keystone Pipeline threatens to severely accelerate the environmental health crisis as well as undermining our efforts to slow the adverse effects of climate change.”

According to NNU, the health problems begin with the process of extracting oil from tar sands in Canada and continue throughout the transportation process down to Texas.

Massive amounts of water are used in the extraction process. During extraction, the water is polluted with toxic substances and dumped into holding pools that can seep into the groundwater.

“Communities living downstream from the ponds have seen spikes in rates of rare cancers, renal failure, lupus, and hyperthyroidism,” reads an explanation on NNU’s website of why the union opposes the pipeline.  “In one small community of just 1,200 residents, 100 have already died from cancer.”

As the oil makes its way down the line, leaks and spills can also cause problems.

NNU reports that in 2010 “a tar sands oil pipeline ruptured near Marshall, Minnesota.  The diluted bitumen, a degraded form of petroleum, traveled 40 miles down the Kalamazoo River to Morrow Lake. More than a month later, state officials found that half of the residents in communities along the river reported respiratory ailments and other symptoms associated with the spill.”

More recently in 2013, “an Exxon Mobil pipeline with tar sands oil ruptured near Mayflower, Ark. Two months later local residents continue to complain of health problems, including persistent coughs and headaches. Independent water and air tests have shown elevated levels of contaminants.”

Perhaps the biggest concern about the pipeline is its impact on climate change.

The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that tar sands well-to-tank carbon emissions are about 82 percent higher than conventional oil drilling.

“Carbon emissions are a major factor in intensifying climate change,” reads the NNU explanation. “Higher air temperatures can increase bacteria-related food poisoning, such as salmonella, and animal-borne diseases such as West Nile virus. Ground level ozone contaminants can damage lung tissue, reduce lung function, and increase respiratory ailments.

“Pediatricians have said they are already witnessing a rise in vector-borne diseases including diarrhea, cholera, gastroenteritis, typhoid, and hepatitis due to environmental factors and the effects of climate change.”

Joining NNU on the bridgewalk were activists from a number of the groups including 350.org, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, CREDO, Greenpeace, Food and Water Watch, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, 350BayArea.org, Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter, Equal Health Network, Center for Biological Diversity, Keystone XL Action Council, UNITE HERE! Local 2850, Citizens Climate Lobby, Bay Localize, and Movement Generation.

The Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers Union have issued a joint statement of opposition to Keystone XL, and members of the CWA and SEIU have been prominent in other actions aimed at opposing the pipeline.

Construction unions and the Teamsters support the building of the pipeline because of the jobs that it will create.

The bridgewalk was one activity of the NNU’s annual Staff Nurses Assembly. At the assembly, the nurses in addition to discussing the impact of the Keystone pipeline will talk about the union’s anti-austerity campaign.

One feature of this campaign is the union’s support for Inclusive Prosperity Act, a bill sponsored by Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, that would add a small financial transactions tax on high-volume, speculative financial trades.

This so-called Robin Hood tax could generate about $1 trillion over ten years that could be used to offset austerity measures and produce millions of jobs building and repairing infrastructure, improving public health, improving the quality of health care, and upgrading public education and public higher education.

NNU was one of the early supporters of the Robin Hood tax and has played a major role in building grassroots support for the tax and the investment in public goods that would be possible with money generated by the tax.

Paid family leave bill being considered in Rhode Island

Advocates for paid family leave are urging the Rhode Island General Assembly to pass the Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) bill, which would expand the state’s temporary disability insurance program to include workers who take leave to care for a newborn child or sick family member.

If enacted, workers could take up to eight weeks off from their jobs to care for a loved one and receive payments through the state’s disability insurance program. The average benefit would be $408 a week. To pay for the insurance, workers would contribute a small portion of their income. A worker making $43,000 a year would contribute $0.83 a week.

“Too many hard working Rhode Islanders . . . find themselves on the edge of economic crisis when they need to care for a seriously ill family member or welcome a new child into their home,” said Sen. Gayle Goldin, sponsor of the Senate version of the bill at an April press conference. “Life is filled with unexpected events, and all of us have experienced the push-pull between work responsibilities and someone in our families needing us. Temporary Caregiver Insurance is a cost-effective way to give employees the time to balance family and work responsibilities without jeopardizing their economic security.”

Supporters of the bill say that paid family care would benefit all workers in Rhode Island but especially those with lower incomes.

“While TCI would cover nearly 80 percent of Rhode Island’s workforce, low-wage workers living from paycheck to paycheck stand to benefit the most,” reads a statement on the website of We Care RI, a coalition supporting passage of the legislation. “Low-wage workers are the least likely to have a full-range of benefits or the savings to cover a few weeks of missed work. Yet, for less than cost of a cup of coffee a day, a low-wage worker can have the peace of mind to know that he or she can have access to paid time off when the need is greatest.”

Supporters of the legislation include the Rhode Island SEIU State Council, AARP Rhode Island, the Senior Agenda coalition, Woman’s Fund of Rhode Island, the Economic Progress Institute, and Rhode Island Kids Count.

In testimony before a state House committee, Leanne Barrett, a senior policy analyst with Rhode Island Kids Count, said that paid family leave is important for bolstering children’s health and development. “Paid time off from work gives parents and children the time that is necessary to establish a strong early connection which sets the course for all future development,” said Barrett.

A recently released report from AARP, Keeping Up with the Times: Supporting Family Caregivers and Workplace Leave, finds that while more workers are taking leave or retiring early to take care of an aging relative, little has been done to ensure that these workers have income to support themselves while they are on leave.

“The aging of the population, changing workforce demographics and increasing demands on family caregivers are colliding at the expense of working caregivers,” said Lynn Feinberg, Senior Strategic Policy Advisor with the AARP Public Policy Institute and author of the report.  “Even as workforce participation and caregiving demands are increasing for caregivers, workplace policies protecting or supporting them have remained stagnant.”

Even some Rhode Island business owners have recognized the value of paid family care leave.

“Recruiting, hiring, and training new employees is too expensive and time consuming,” said Dan Gold, president of LNA Laser Technology at the April press conference. “Especially when under TCI, I know that my employees will return after they’re done with their caregiving responsibilities.  This bill not only provides employees with job security, but business owners are able to avoid the costly process of hiring and training new employees.”

The US is one of the few rich countries that does not provide universal paid family leave; however, two states–California and New Jersey have already implemented paid family leave programs similar to TCI.

According to We Care Rhode Island, “Studies of California’s and New Jersey’s paid family leave legislation show temporary caregiver insurance leads to business savings, by increasing employee retention, lowering turnover costs, and enhancing worker morale.”

The state Senate Finance Committee has heard testimony of TCI and the bill is still pending in committee.

Sen. Goldin told the Associated Press that she is confident that the measure will be adopted by the General Assembly before it adjourns.

Unions host diverse anti-G8 demonstration in Belfast

About 3,000 people gathered in front of the Belfast, Northern Ireland City Hall on Saturday, June 15 to voice their opposition to the G8 Summit that began on Monday, June 17. The demonstration, which included activists from social justice, environmental, and labor movements, was organized by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

“We are here to send a message of unity,” said Brian Campfield, vice-president of ICTU. “This is those of differing causes coming together to say, ‘a different world is possible.'” Campfield went to say that there is an alternative to “cut-throat capitalism,” and to the “selfish and dog eat dog world” upheld and policed by the G8 leaders.

Leaders of the G8 countries, the US, the UK, France, Russia, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Canada, are meeting at the Lough Erie golf resort in Fermanagh, a rural county located in Erne river basin.

Recently, Fermanagh has been the target of Tamboran Resources, an Australian energy exploration company that plans to build 60 fracking pads covering 40,000 acres of the county.

Among those at the Saturday G8 protest were local opponents of the fracking process, which has the potential for polluting groundwater.

“People across the UK, including Northern Ireland, are rightly concerned about the threat fracking poses to their communities, local environment and the global climate,” said James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland speaking at the rally. “It’s time to put the long-term future of the planet first – and develop a clean energy future we can all afford.”

Anti-poverty activists made up a large contingent at the rally.

Pamela Dooley, chair of the Northern Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, told the audience that G8 policies had done little to help those who live in extreme poverty around the world.

“As we meet here today over one billion people on the planet are living in extreme poverty and are facing starvation, malnutrition and early death,” said Dooley. “Much of the responsibility for that crisis lies at door of the West and those meeting in Fermanagh. We have long worked in solidarity with our brothers and sisters facing oppression, poverty and starvation. We are today confronting real power with the demand for justice.”

G-8 meetings have for the last 15 years been the target of protests.

This year’s demonstration was smaller and more restrained from those in the past.

A heavy downpour saturated the route of the march that led up to rally and continued throughout the rally. Organizers said that the bad weather kept many away from the event.

They also said that the extremely tight security measures was the more important reason that many stayed away. The route of the march was lined with police in full battle dress, and the rally was surrounded by police. Helicopters patrolled overhead and police Land Rovers were stationed at strategic points near the march route. Local authorities set up 260 temporary holding cells and put 16 judges on standby to preside over special courts.

The tight security and heavy rain didn’t dampen the spirit or message of those at the rally.

“The eight people meeting in Fermanagh are leaders of some of the richest and most powerful countries on the planet,” said Dooley. “They do not have our consent to form a gang of eight, nine or 20 in order to force their damaging policies on the rest of us.”

“We are here to remind [the G8 leaders] that they are not all powerful,” said Kerry Fleck, chair of the Belfast Trades Council. “To remind them that the real power lies with us, the working class, the people of the world who are seven-billion strong. Without us they are nothing. They have no power and no influence when we unite.”