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.