by Doug Nesbitt
Locked out for thirteen months, over three hundred IKEA workers in Richmond, BC are still holding out. While setting record profits in 2013, IKEA is trying to impose a two-tier wage system and seriously weaken benefits.
The stakes are high as IKEA Richmond sets workplace standards for non-union IKEA stores.
Of the twelve IKEA stores in Canada and Quebec, it is the only one unionized outside of Montreal where workers are represented by CSN. Teamsters Local 213 represents the workers in Richmond.
One of the shop stewards at IKEA Richmond, Dorothy “Dot” Tompkins explains: “We’re the flagship store in North America. They’ve kept the union out of other stores by giving them what we get. Whatever we lose, they’ll lose.”
The fight is a difficult one. Of the 350 unionized workers, 36 crossed the picket line at the outset. Two more have since crossed the line. IKEA Richmond workers are also conducting daily information pickets outside the IKEA Coquitlam, although the pickets cannot legally disrupt the business.
Working at IKEA Richmond
Depending on job descriptions, IKEA Richmond workers will start at the minimum wage of $10.25/h and top out at between $19/h and $21/h. The wage rates for supervisory work is between $20/h and $24/h. IKEA workers also have decent benefits.
The lack of hours for part-timers is a serious problem. Thirteen of the 32 cashiers had no shifts in the two weeks leading up to the lockout.
However, the lack of hours for part-timers is a serious problem. Of the 350 workers, only 110 are guaranteed hours. Seventy are guaranteed 38 hours/week and another forty are guaranteed 30 hours/week. The rest have no guaranteed hours. Most part-time workers are students and youth, mothers, and workers who have more than one job. Dot Tompkins, who works as a cashier, says 13 of the 32 cashiers had no shifts in the two weeks leading up to the lockout.
Management’s culture of bullying
IKEA Richmond workers have also faced a culture of bullying from management since 2006. In 2006, the workers struck for a month to repeal a two-tier wage system. The two-tier system was a concession made by workers in 2003 when IKEA said the store was going to be closed.
We saw it start in 2006. Little things started happening. Really stupid payroll things that really messes with people’s minds because it’s upsetting.
After the 2006 strike, the workplace culture at IKEA Richmond became far worse. Dot Tompkins explains:
“We saw it start in 2006. Little things started happening. They suddenly had real issues with their payroll, like accidentally paying people out their vacation. Really stupid things that really messes with people’s minds because it’s upsetting. Then they’d take the money back by taking so much off each paycheque. Just stupid things like that, like no paying their sick days, screwing upon how many vacation days they had.”
The bullying is linked to IKEA’s aggressive agenda of rollbacks in bargaining. Today, as in 2006, IKEA says it is not in the “benefits business.” They want to rollback family benefits by changing eligibility. Tompkins explains “We have it setup so that in order to get full benefits for your family, you work an average of 20 hours a week. They have constantly wanted to change it to 24. When we looked at our workforce and how much they worked, 24 hours is a hell of a lot harder to achieve than twenty.”
As part-time retail workers know, an extra four hours usually means an extra shift which is difficult to get, especially at Ikea Richmond.
Management has also pushed for contracting out, cutting life insurance in half, and not paying out vacation pay in a lump sum as the workers would prefer.
IKEA’s war against shopfloor representation
Union-management relations also deteriorated dramatically.
“It used to be really good,” explains Dot. “You’d almost never see a grievance. Suddenly there were grievances left, right and centre. We weren’t allowed to spend much time with new co-workers. We used to be able to sit down with them and explain to them what the union was all about. Initially we were given five minutes, then all of a sudden it was nothing.”
IKEA was really banking that the Filipino workers would be so scared they would vote against striking and vote for whatever offer was there. Management didn’t realize that the workers are a lot smarter than they give them credit for.
Despite a union security clause in the contract, union reps were having a hard time scheduling times to get into the store to talk to workers. And they were no longer free to walk the floor without management supervision.
However, management increased the number of one-on-one “talks” and larger meetings with workers. Union stewards, such as Tompkins, were not asked into these meetings. IKEA used this approach in an attempt to intimidate workers from the Filipino community.
According to Tompkins, “IKEA was really banking that the Filipino workers would be so scared they would vote against striking and vote for whatever offer was there. They had two Filipino managers basically barraging them one-on-one and in captive audience meetings. Management didn’t realize that the workers are a lot smarter than they give them credit for.”
Time for a real boycott
The locked out workers at IKEA Richmond are already calling for a boycott. With only twelve stores across Canada, IKEA is extremely vulnerable to a sustained labour campaign with regular boots-on-the-ground actions and a clear media strategy. Each store is in a big city where decent numbers can be mobilized.
IKEA is a very high profile brand, which makes their reputation vulnerable to a clear, well-developed and well-executed media strategy in conjunction with well-organized picketing, flyering and rallies at the stores.
Coordinating this shouldn’t be difficult. We already have the forces at our disposal. Trade unionists in the large city labour councils where IKEAs are located can introduce motions and action plans to carry out actions at the stores and contacting the local media (CBC, CTV, Global, newspapers, etc) to cover the actions.
Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff, who visited the picket lines on June 2, has a real opportunity to put his promising words at last May’s CLC convention into action. Here is the “ground war” Yussuff says he wants to unleash. The CLC can easily start to organize a national pressure campaign against IKEA. It could provide local labour councils with the materials and direction to start coordinated info pickets at every single IKEA store, which could culminate in a call for a national boycott. Yussuff and the CLC can also work with the Teamsters and CSN to activate their memberships around their workplaces, including the unionized IKEA Montreal.
labour activists can democratically engage their labour councils with action plans and pressure Yussuff and the CLC into action
Last but not least, Hassan Husseini’s “Take the Back CLC” campaign can also inform and activate its network of supporters to democratically engage their labour councils with action plans and pressure Yussuff and the CLC into action. Husseini has credibility on the IKEA Richmond picket lines. He was the only presidential CLC candidate to visit the lines before the convention in early May and according to Dot Tompkins, the workers “were really quite impressed with him.”
The fight against IKEA is winnable, and holds out the opportunity to re-energize and rebuild networks of labour activists. This will only help the fight against Canada Post and future struggles. Time for a real boycott. Time for the ground war.
margaret marentette says
I would like ALL WORKERS, who like their benefits and vacation pay and any other extras they receive from their workplace, to thank a union that fought for these, by boycotting ALL IKEA stores across the globe. I’ve seen their underhanded dealings with employees firsthand, and have heard all the labour laws that they have been breaking and fined for. Help everyone who has a secure job and wants to keep it that way, by not shopping at IKEA and showing these big conglomerates that CANADA stands behind the workers and what they have fought for all these many years. Thank you.
Here’s the response I got from Ikea when I wrote them about this today:
Thank you for taking the time to reach out to IKEA regarding the on-going Teamsters’ union strike at our Richmond store. I appreciate the opportunity to provide you with accurate information. I recognize this is a difficult time for all our employees and that it is a very polarizing issue.
The strike has gone on too long, longer than anyone expected. Please be assured that IKEA cares deeply about our employees. We do not feel this situation is in anyone’s best interest and we are committed to reaching a fair resolution.
IKEA is an award winning employer that remains committed to providing our co-workers with exceptional wages and benefits. In addition, we provide training and development opportunities both in Canada and around the world. It is important to note 50% of IKEA Richmond employees make over $18/hour and 25% make over $21/hour. IKEA also offers generous benefits to both part-time and full-time employees.
To date, every offer put forward by IKEA has included automatic annual increases for all co-workers and a generous benefits package. At this time, there is no bargaining scheduled and our last meeting was in mid-December. We made some progress during the last meetings, but there are still 16 issues that need to be agreed on, including the co-workers who have returned to work.
On April 8, 2014, the Teamsters filed an application with the B.C. Labour Relations Board asking to have the co-workers who have returned to work fired from their own jobs. What the union is asking for has never happened in B.C.’s history. We’ve suggested many other solutions that would see everyone back working together again. Unfortunately the union has rejected them.
IKEA disagrees with the union as it is our goal to have all of our co-workers working together again. In the meantime, they are welcome back anytime.
We are always ready to return to the bargaining table to reach an agreement on all open items. However, we can’t accept a solution that includes terminating the employment or removing the co-workers who have exercised their legal choice to return to work. IKEA has worked hard over the last year to meet the union’s key concerns, but movement is required from both sides if we are going to end this strike.
Store Manager, IKEA Richmond
jacqueline jones says
Well Janet its nice that 50% of co-workers earn 18-25 per hr. but how many hrs. do they receive in a week ? As a cashier at ikea Richmond I earn a decent wage 19dollars per hr. but i am one of the guaranteed 30 hrs. per wk..my colleagues are less fortunate and even 19 per hr. doesn’t work if you only receive 4-10 hrs per week. We have asked that you move the scabs to coquitlam not fire them….although they have broken your own rules of ikea values and have proven untrustworthy…you chose them at the meetings before the lockout you promised them the moon….you delivered with tiffany rings at Christmas for the women and tag hauer watches for the men, just throw some more cash at them and remove the cancer from our store…you arrived on a contract just for this situation….maybe its time you left….we heard you already have and have secured a position in HR.ikea Canada in Ont….hopefully you don’t hang the new manager Steve Foster out to dry when he has served as the fall guy for your and mastermind Corey Randalls folly…..go back to the table and quit the B.S. we are all onto the game….
John Owens says
Publish the names of the scabs that have crossed the line. That way, if they are our neighbors, we will know.
mike mcdonald says
I wish the CLC would quite flapping thier mouths and actually do something declare all Ikea’s hot no unions can service nothing comes off the dock that is the only thing that these type understand hit them in the pocket book.