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.”