Members of Teamsters Local 213 in British Columbia, Canada rallied on Saturday to support more than 300 IKEA workers in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond who have been locked out since May 13. They were joined by members of other Teamsters locals, Teamsters Canada, the BC Federation of Labor, other unions, and elected officials.
Meanwhile, the BC Federation of Labor has reiterated its call for union members throughout British Columbia to boycott the IKEA stores in Richmond and nearby Coquitlam. Both are owned by the same IKEA franchise holder.
Local 213 is resisting the company’s attempt to create a two-tiered wage system that would allow the company to pay new hires less money for the same work as current employees.
“Despite the Richmond (IKEA) location being highly profitable, management is seeking to impose significant wage cuts on the majority of its workforce,” said Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Federation of Labor in a statement about the lockout. “Five years ago, the Teamsters fought the tiered wage structure and won.”
“This was something that we had fought hard in 2007 to basically eliminate,” said Local 213 business representative Anita Dawson to the Globe and Mail. “So when they came to the table and tried to introduce it again – we’re not interested in fighting the same fight.”
In addition to seeking a two-tiered wage system IKEA wants to reduce benefits for part-time workers, who make up a significant share of the IKEA workforce, contract out work, and reduce part-timers working hours.
Union members have said that the lockout and IKEA’s insistence on concessions at a time when the company is highly profitable strongly suggests that the company’s real agenda is to bust the union.
The company told the Globe and Mail that union busting is not part of its agenda.
The two sides returned to the negotiating table last week. Talks to end the walkout are being assisted by a mediator.
Union members at IKEA have opposed the two-tiered wage system because it undermines solidarity, which in turn puts at risk all the other gains that union members have won through their collective efforts.
In a recent statement about the lockout and boycott, Jim Sinclair explained what is at stake for union members throughout British Columbia.
“Tiered wage structures such as the one proposed by IKEA poison work sites, creating resentment between co-workers,” said Sinclair. “Moreover, they contribute to the part-timing of work, as management seeks to take advantage of new, lower wage categories.”
Local 213 members have fought hard to prevent the company from taking advantage of part-time labor. Unlike most part-timers in the US, part-time workers at the IKEA store in Richmond receive benefits in addition to their wages.
Those who work between 15 and 19 hours receive 80 percent of the company’s benefits. Those working 20 hours or more receive full benefits.
IKEA is proposing to raise the number of hours required to receive the full benefit to 24.
Despite being locked out for more than 70 days, the more than 300 Teamsters at the IKEA store have maintained their solidarity.
However, 27 have returned to work, and union members recently voted to expel them from the union.
IKEA has used management staff and others to keep the store open, but hours of operation have been reduced, and some of the services that other IKEA stores provide have been shut down.
The Vancouver Sun reports that the lockout has closed Smaland, the children’s play area, and the 600-seat store restaurant.