International delegation presents report on IKEA lockout

An International delegation traveled to Sweden on December 11 to present a report on the lockout of IKEA store employees in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. The locked out workers belong to Teamsters Local 213.

“IKEA has clearly violated its own code of conduct, as well as international labor standards”, said Peter Lovkvist, general secretary of the Nordic Transport Federation and a member of the international delegation. “Locking out and intimidating workers, and hiring lawyers with histories of attacking workers and unions – behavior I witnessed personally in  Canada – none of this is acceptable. IKEA would never treat its workers in Sweden this way.”

The report, entitled “How IKEA Is Hurting Families,” extensively details the findings of an international fact-finding commission that visited Richmond in November to learn about the lockout, now in its seventh month.

According to the report, relations between IKEA and its Richmond store employees began to deteriorate in 2007 after the workers successfully conducted a strike to stop the implementation of a two-tiered wage system that would lower wages for new employees.

Management instability has also contributed to the problem. Since 2007, there have been five store managers and six human resources managers.

Many of the new managers were brought in from outside the IKEA organization and brought with them a hostile attitude toward unions and union members.

Relations deteriorated more in 2010 when IKEA changed its outside counsel to an anti-union firm with ties to Labor Watch, a right-wing Canadian group that seeks to eliminate unions.

The company’s disregard for its workers reached a new low in May when IKEA Richmond locked out its workers after they overwhelmingly rejected for the third time a company offer that reduced salaries for new workers, reduced the workers’ life insurance benefit, cut worker sick days in half, and cut other benefits.

Since then, the company has aggressively sought to break the union by coercing union members to return to work under the terms of the rejected offer.

The company has also conducted an aggressive surveillance campaign against peaceful picketers, and according to the report, “has been found to be in breach of the British Columbia Labor Relations Code on multiple occasions throughout this dispute.”

“IKEA is holding us hostage,” said Keith Austin, a 27-year Richmond IKEA employee and member of the international delegation. “The company is refusing to let us return to work until we surrender many of our rights. It is unconscionable that this multi-billion dollar corporation has locked us out of our jobs. I came to Sweden to ask IKEA why it has hired lawyers to sit at the bargaining table in Canada and pretend to negotiate while our families starve at Christmas time.”

Austin spent his first day in Sweden handing out flyers about the lockout at an IKEA store near Stockholm. He was joined by another delegation member Grant Coleman of Teamsters Canada.

The delegation also presented the report to Lars-Anders Haggstrom, president of Handels, the union that represents IKEA workers in Sweden.

In additions to Austin, Coleman, and Lovkvist, the delegation is composed of Erin van der Maas,  International Transport Workers’ Federation, Tim Beaty, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Mathias Bolton, UNI Global.

The delegation is also trying to arrange a meeting with IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad so that the report can be presented to him in person.

The delegation wants Kamprad to understand that as the report puts it, “IKEA Richmond’s management has abandoned the stated values of the ‘IKEA family’.”

The report recommends that IKEA Richmond should return to the bargaining table in good faith and break its ties with the anti-union Labor Watch.

According to a media statement, the delegation is also urging IKEA in Sweden “to set a new voluntary standard for its employees in Canada and worldwide, by engaging with UNI Global (an international confederation of retail workers unions) toward a Global Framework Agreement, ensuring a common application of IKEA values.”

The international delegation will attend solidarity rallies in Sweden on December 17, the same day that other solidarity rallies will be held at ports around the world that handle IKEA products.

The Teamsters Coleman said that unless the dispute with IKEA is resolved global union solidarity actions will expand beyond mere gestures of support.

“When this becomes global, we will be going from solidarity to action,” said Coleman to the Swedish national public television station. “This will affect all the IKEA stores worldwide. They will suffer loss as never before.”

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