Solidarity rally kicks off international support for locked out IKEA workers

Despite threats from IKEA’s lawyers, members of Teamsters Local 213, who have been locked out by IKEA for six months, rallied on November 23 to demand a fair collective bargaining agreement. They were joined at the solidarity rally by hundreds of other trade union members.

The locked out workers work at the IKEA store in Richmond, Britsh Columbia. The rally, which took place across the street from an IKEA store in nearby Coquitlam, marked the beginning of a worldwide campaign to support the locked out workers.

The IKEA workers have been fighting to protect their wages and benefits. The company, on the other hand, has insisted that the workers accept pay and benefit cuts.

“We’re standing here in soldidarity with the IKEA workers,” said Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Federation of Labor as he addressed the crowd, which was packed tightly on a narrow strip of land across the street from the Coquitlam IKEA store.

Sinclair said that he received a letter from IKEA’s attorneys a week before the rally. “(IKEA’s attorneys)  said that if you have a rally here, we’ll sue you,” he said. “We say bring it on! In this country we have a right to speak our mind and we have a right to have a rally.”

Sinclair noted that the IKEA lawyers who sent the letter also work for an anti-union group called Labor Watch.

Sinclair thanked the other unions whose members came to the rally and have walked the picket line with Local 213 members and urged people to continue the IKEA boycott.

“This isn’t a fight about Teamsters, it’s a fight about working people,” said Sinclair.

Out in the crowd, supporters held banners from their different unions including ILWU Canada, UNITE HERE, UFCW, Construction and Specailzed Workers Union, and Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union.

Peter Lehay of ILWU Local 400 talked about the solidarity actions that are being organized to support the locked out IKEA workers.

Lehay, who is also the Canadian national coordinator for the International Transportation Federation (ITF), a global federation of unions in the transportation industry, said that ITF has been publicizing IKEA’s lockout of its Richmond workers.

“We’re going to make sure that the IKEA brand is known around the world for how it treats its workers,” said Lehay. “It seems like if you’re an IKEA worker in Sweden, you get treated pretty well, but the farther away from Sweden you get, the worse the treatment that workers receive.”

Lehay said that IKEA in Turkey has resisted efforts by its workers to join a union even though the workers voted in elections supervised by the government to unionize.

In France, IKEA executives have been arrested for bribing police to spy on IKEA workers.

In Russia, IKEA caved into homphobia and withdrew catalogues that included pictures of a gay couple.

Lehay also said that representatives of ITF and Uni Global, an international federation of retail workers unions, will be meeting with IKEA’s Swedish executives to discuss the lockout in Richmond.

Dorothy Thompkins, a 20-year IKEA employees, Local 213 shop steward, and bargaining committee member, told the crowd that the lockout began on May 13 after workers rejected IKEA’s offer for the third time.

“I can tell you that negotiations were about IKEA trying to clawback what they could and us trying to preserve what we have,” said Thomkins.

Early on in the negotiations, IKEA tried to get the workers to accept a two-tiered wage system, something that that the workers rejected in 2007 during the previous contract negotiation.

“We went on strike in 2007 to eliminate a two tiered wage structure, and we won,” said Thomkins.

But IKEA tried to reintroduce it again in 2013. A two-tiered wage structure is bad for new and old workers alike, said Thomkins, and we rejected it again this year.

IKEA has subsequently withdrawn its two tiered wage proposal but has insisted that workers accept a new pay progression system that extends for some workers the length of time it takes to reach maximum pay to 20 years.

The company also wants to base pay raises on production and sales goals that the IKEA alone sets.

IKEA says that its offer is generous and points out that some workers at the store make $18 an hour to $20 an hour, but Thomkins pointed ot that the average work week for IKEA  Richmond employees is only 19 hours.

“That’s not enough money to raise a family on,” she said.

As the rally wrapped up, Anita Dawson, Local 213′ business representative, said that the lockout at IKEA Richmond is the longest in the company’s history.

Dawson said that IKEA is hiding behind the concrete walls that it erected when the lockout began and keeps those walking the picket line under constant surveillance.

IKEA needs to come out from hiding behind its walls and bargain a fair contract with its workers, said Dawson. That’s the only way that this lockout ends.

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