After one year, Ikea workers are still locked out

Ikea workers in Richmond, British Columbia on May 10 rallied to mark the one-year anniversary of their lockout.

Last year, the Ikea store in Richmond locked out its workers after 84 percent of Teamsters Local 213 members rejected the companies final offer that would have reduced benefits and wages and would have created a two-tiered wage system that would have resulted in lower wages for newly hired employees.

“I don’t think that there ever was an attempt (by Ikea) to reach an agreement here,” said Mike Levinson, a business representative for Local 213 at the rally. “It was all about teaching people here a lesson.”

Levinson said that he has been involved in negotiations in which businesses were struggling, and that in these cases, the union has worked with companies to help the business get back on track.

But that’s not the case with Ikea. “This company has no difficulties,” said Levinson. “It’s just looking for a fight. They thought you guys would cave in, but after a year, you’re still here.”

Levinson told the crowd that he just had returned from a Teamsters conference in the US where the main topic of discussion was the War on Workers that is being financed by billionaire right wingers, who want to turn back the clock on labor rights.

Levinson said that Ikea’s actions are similar to the actions of those in the US who want to bust unions. If that happens here, it won’t be just the workers at Ikea who will suffer, it will be all workers in British Columbia, he added.

Jeri Black, a 15-year Ikea Richmond employee echoed the same thought and added that the fight with Ikea is a fight for the future generation of workers.

If companies like Ikea can impose concessions on workers even when they’re making profits, then things will get much worse not only for us but for our children, said Black.

“If we don’t stick up for the next generation, it’s going to be District 13 (a reference to the movie Hunger Games),” she said. “You’re either going to be rich or you’re going to be poor. There won’t be any middle class.”

Anita Dawson, Local 213 business agent who has been negotiating with Ikea, said that Ikea’s tactics don’t reflect the social responsibilities values that Ikea claims to follow.

Would a company that believes in social responsibility force major concessions on its workers while it is making large profits? asked Dawson.

According to Dawson, some of the concessions that Ikea is trying to impose include a reduction in benefits eligibility and a new wage structure that will lengthen the time it takes for a worker to achieve the maximum wage rate.

Dawson also accused the company of coercion, intimidation, and spreading fear among its workers.

During the lock out, the company has hired a security company to conduct surveillance of strikers, has fired union members for activities on the picket line, and contacted union members directly in hopes of forcing them back to work.

Dawson said that the union had a good idea before the lock out began that the company would rather fight than negotiate.

“Would a good employer announce five days before the lock out that it would represent any employee who wanted to cross a picket line (and) that it would pay any union imposed fines for crossing the picket line,” said Dawson.

Dawson also accused Ikea of backwards bargaining–withdrawing bargaining proposals and replacing them with harsher terms if the workers would not accept concessions–and allying itself with Labor Watch, an anti-union group that works with employers to bust unions.

Despite the intimidation, fear, and coercion, most of the locked workers have refused to return to work and have rejected Ikea’s concession proposals four times.

“We’re willing to return to work,” Dawson said. “But we won’t accept concessions. We want to keep the same contract that we had before the lockout began.”

At the end of the rally, Dawson read a letter of support from Hassan Yussuff, the newly elected president of the Canadian Labor Congress (CLC), which represents 3.5 million Canadian workers.

In the letter, Yussuff said that the CLC would support the ongoing boycott of Ikea until the company drops it concession demands and bargains fairly with its workers.

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