Values, discrimination, the Swedish way: all these ideas are in the mix as stakeholders of IKEA’s treatment of workers express how they feel about IKEA’s plan to break its union in Richmond, BC.
We’ve been writing about this new front line in Canada’s war against workers for months now. But the members of Teamsters Local 213 have been living it.
This is the Christmas season. If you intend to buy anything IKEA-ish in Richmond, Coquitlam, elsewhere in Canada or around the world, spend some time finding another vendor then tweet or Facebook IKEA letting them know you’re part of the boycott because of their horrible labour practices. [UPDATE: they deleted my post on their Facebook page. Did they delete yours too? You may need to post it again. And again, and over and over. Hint hint.]
Workers in Canada and around the world have been under assault for decades, but most of our recent tactics to stop the bleeding have been ineffective. Are we lazy, complacent, overworked, obedient, compliant, subdued, afraid, docile, or fully tamed and intimidated by the one per cent?
If we don’t get a lot more of our boots on the pavement, and soon, our union density will continue to decline to an impotent level. Just look at the United States. Union density does not have to be zero for workers there to consistently lose against employers and anti-worker legislators. Density just has to be low enough to dissuade against a meaningful push back.
Here are two examples of just how bad it is getting, in Canada.
In 2012, Labatt’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch, made $9 billion in profit. Not revenue, but profit! That’s a lot of Stella, Becks, Lowenbrau and Blue. Yet, last April, they tried to demand concessions from their workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, because $9 billion was simply, incredibly, not enough money for their shareholders. (A boycott campaign has begun, but it won’t work until thousands or millions take part AND communicate their boycott to retailers and the corporation.)
In Richmond, B.C., on the day before the provincial election in May, and in the media frenzy of that campaign, IKEA locked out its unionized workers, members of Teamsters Local 213, and then began bargaining in reverse: the longer the workers stayed out, the more concessions they would have to eat. Then IKEA was also caught hiring scabs.
The warm and fuzzy Swedish company is calling it a strike because workers can come back in any time. The rhetoric is galling, but we don’t have the luxury of having our sensibilities bruised.
By the way, IKEA’s 2011 profit was $3.85 billion. Profit, not revenue. Again, not enough money for the family-owned company! Its founder is worth $52 billion.
Despite IKEA’s charming, suburban, global reputation, they have been busting unions around the world. The only unionized IKEAS in Canada are in Richmond and Montreal. If IKEA breaks the Teamsters in Richmond, what happens to the workers in Montreal and to any other organizing drives around the country? They fizzle. Seventy per cent of IKEA workers in Sweden are unionized. They’re at risk. Every retail worker in Canada, including at IKEA, should be in a union.
Abandon Ineffective Tactics
Petitions and email campaigns are convenient for activists who are busy. Sending stern emails also feels good and helps us feel involved, but they’re often just form letters. Even if we all added our own unique preface to the form letter, how often do they cause employers to back down. Armchair activism has run its course.
We are rarely able to get more than a few dozen of the usual suspects out to rallies. What does this accomplish? Why do we even have rallies any more? The media rarely show up. Even if they did, they often end up mocking the issue by looking for sensational personalities to put on camera. The employers are often just inconvenienced for a few hours, then it’s back to union busting. If rallies never lead to a victory, why should we be surprised that members and their families and activist networks won’t show up for them.
Despair is a luxury we cannot afford. It’s also self-indulgent and extremely unproductive. But futility is a feeling that we can learn from. So is fatigue, burnout, complacency, cynicism and exasperation. So, let’s stop asking members to show up for actions that don’t work.
We need to get back into the streets, and not for 45-minute rallies. Unions have often merely endorsed exciting new approaches to pushing back against the Canadian and global elite, like the Occupy Movement and Idle No More, but we haven’t delivered our members, their families and activist networks. Here’s why: we haven’t drawn the connections so that our members can understand that real wage growth in the last two generations has declined while the one per cent are becoming obscenely rich. We will keep losing if we don’t fight back, and a lot more.
What if there was strike support at every IKEA in Canada from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday until the end of the lockout in Richmond. And not just a rally, but real engagement, taking advantage of the opportunity to inform IKEA’s beloved customers about how awful the company’s labour policies are, and how rich IKEA’s owners are.
But why stop there. Why not continue the rallies until every IKEA in Canada is unionized.
I know, we are exhausted. We are trapped in a hyper-consumerist society and we make less money than our parents did. So, we’re behind and we aren’t catching up, and we have little free time and we miss our families and friends. Still, we could be more effective with the time we’ve got. We can’t turn this around until we help our members understand that every lockout or anti-worker piece of legislation is an attack on them, on all of us. It needs to be our job, as labour activists, to help people make the connection that it is worth several hours every other Saturday to do something like occupy the sidewalks outside all the IKEAS.
One-off rallies are not effective any more. Regular, unpredictable rallies and occupations would be better, but only if we can show our members how they will be successful.
This piece appears in the current issue of Our Times.
It thinks it’s being clever disputing the word, but it has locked out its employees for 10 weeks now. It started as a one-hour lockout after which the workers were invited back, but only if they accept the inferior contract they had already voted down. If IKEA had never locked out its workers, a strike may have happened. Letting workers re-enter only under inferior terms means the employer is defining the conditions for return. That, friends, is a lockout.
Bear that in mind as we drift through the IKEA spin email to convince me that it still loves its employees, despite wanting to reduce wages and benefits and contract out work, all while having earned $3.85 billion in profit in 2011.
Below is the re-spin. IKEA’s email is in italics, my responses aren’t. Emphasis is mine.
Subject: IKEA Contact
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2013 17:52:55 -0400 (EDT)
From: IKEA CANADA <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: stephen elliott-buckley <email@example.com>
Hello Mr. Elliott-Buckley,
Thank you for contacting IKEA Canada. We appreciate your feedback with regards to the current labour dispute in Richmond; however, it is unfortunate that you have been misinformed regarding the agreement that was offered to our valuable co-workers.
Misinformed? Right. Let’s see how.
We have been bargaining in good faith for six months with the Union representing our Richmond store co-workers; but, we remain at an impasse. Throughout this dispute, IKEA’s goal has been for a quick, reasonable and equitable contract resolution for all concerned. That being said, under the recent advice of The BC Labour Relations Board, both parties have agreed to meet with a mediator to try to reach a settlement. Those meetings are now underway.
Good faith bargaining is really subjective.
I agree with its desire for a quick settlement. After the lockout it reduced its offer in stages so the sooner workers capitulated, the less they’d have to suffer. That’s called bargaining in reverse.
Reasonable: subjective, as is equitable. Employers often like to define concessions as equitable. Did I mention IKEA made $3.85 billion in profit in 2011? How do you define equitable? And if IKEA wants all concerned to feel a contract resolution is equitable, I wonder what would make the workers think concessions are reasonable and equitable.
Please be assured that IKEA continues to be committed to providing our co-workers with employment conditions that meet or exceed industry standards. We will not waiver from this commitment under any circumstances.
Industry standards. This is really important. This means that IKEA has been paying its workers higher than some kind of average, or some number someone asserts as an industry standard. Its goal in forcing concessions is to ensure it still meets or exceeds [by less] such a standard. That is called a race to the bottom. Others are paid less, therefore by definition, IKEA is paying too much. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have foreign sweatshops.
However, we think it’s important for you to know that we offer wages that are well above the industry standard and none of our co-workers will have a reduction in wages under the new agreement. IKEA Richmond offers very competitive paid benefits for both full-time and part-time co-workers as well as generous sick day eligibility for both full-time and part-time workers at levels unheard of in the retail industry.
Here, IKEA is being more explicit that it is paying its workers too much above the industry standard, which, by the way, it doesn’t define. What is the industry standard, BC’s minimum wage?
I also believe IKEA when it says none will have a wage reduction. What it doesn’t mention is that in a new 2-tiered wage system, new hires will work for less doing the same job. This is how that works: over time, the new hires outnumber the old ones and the new lower wage becomes the norm and the old wage earners are disappeared.
I believe IKEA that it offers benefits and sick days. Its email doesn’t mention that it will reduce eligibility for benefits. Levels unheard of in the retail industry? Sorry, I had to recover from the vapours after reading that. IKEA doesn’t mention what those levels are, or why it is so much better in the industry. But again, even if it’s true according to some kind of meaningful measurement, all it is really saying is that it wants its employees to not be such an awesome outlier and fit in with the rest of the industry–and save some loot and pad their $3.85 billion profit some more.
On behalf of IKEA, there is nothing more we want than to return to business as usual and welcome our co-workers back into the store so we can return to what we do best – providing outstanding service and products to our loyal customers. It is our hope that mediation will assist in reaching a settlement. IKEA Richmond cares about its co-workers and we understand this is a difficult time; however, they are welcome to return to work anytime.
Any employer that says it cares about its workers after locking them out, bargaining backwards, then continuing forcing a concessionary contract needs to look up some kind of definition of caring.
A difficult time. What a disturbingly innocuous phrase. That’s like a political leader sending soldiers “into harm’s way” as if harm is like the rain or gravity or something. I wonder who created this difficult time. It is not like a hurricane or a flood in Calgary or Toronto, or some kind of earthquake. Difficulties just don’t occur. Someone started this one: IKEA.
Thank you again for sharing your feedback with us.
The best part of the Teamster Local 213 rally in Richmond on Saturday was the humanity: the stage was largely filled with Teamsters telling their stories, showing everyone how this 10 week lockout is affecting them as people, and the “humanity” that IKEA markets itself with around the world.
IKEA made $3.85 billion in profits in 2011. Its founder is worth $52 billion. In the past, the company has prided itself on a family atmosphere, but now they want to break the union in Richmond, BC, then they’ll likely go after the union at their Montreal store, then continue with union-busting in the United States.
You can read about the lockout here and here, then enjoy the human side of the global anti-worker agenda of the 1% in the 3 videos below.
Then, make sure you email IKEA Canada [for your email subject, choose “How us Improve (complaints)”] and phone your local IKEA at 1-866-866-4532 to let them know you are boycotting IKEA until they stop trying to break their unions in Richmond and everywhere. My email to IKEA is at the bottom. Feel free to plagiarize it in any way you like!
People Before Profits
Concessionary bargaining is ridiculous, which is what IKEA is after. They want newly hired employees to make less than current employees for doing the same work. They want to restrict access to benefits and contract out work.
This is simply greed: the global 1% not happy with almost $4 billion in profit in 2011. IKEA says they care about their workers, but it’s now profit before people.
When the RCMP monitor protests with video cameras and photos from vantage points up high, it is not that surprising. Watching IKEA’s security forces monitor the perimeter, and videotape and photograph the rally on Saturday, however, was a special new kind of corporate surveillance.
The IKEA “Family”: We Are the Many
Mark, one of the many, shares IKEA’s human principles, and how they are being perverted by corporate greed.
Theresa, shares her wisdom on gratitude and community and relationships.
Kenji, a new IKEA worker, on what solidarity looks like.
Victor, speaks about how new part-time workers can see their weekly hours can drift below 5 to zero
My Boycott Email to IKEA
I can’t remember how many thousands of dollars I’ve spent at IKEA in my life. It’s lots.
But now, for 10 weeks you’ve been locking out your workers. You want to reduce wages and benefits and contract out work.
Ikea made $3.85 billion in 2011. I’m pretty sure your greed is showing.
I will not shop at IKEA until you take all the concessions off the table and settle with your Teamsters local.
And this means I won’t shop at IKEA Coquitlam and I’m working to convince my friends and neighbours to boycott IKEA until you stop trying to pad your multi-billion dollar profit on the backs of your workers.
Get over yourselves and stop trying to break your union.
Ikea, that family-friendly darling of home decor and Swedish innocence is trying to break its union, Teamsters Local 213.
They have locked out their Richmond, BC workers for two months now, while deciding to bargain in reverse: Start with a pathetic offer, then as time goes by, if locked out workers don’t come back, the concessions and contract stripping INCREASE!
By the way, Ikea’s 2011 profit was $3.85 billion. Profit, not revenue. Again, not enough money for the family-owned company! Its founder is worth $52 billion.
Tia reviewed Ikea’s anti-social shenanigans when the lockout hit Day 17. Her piece detailed some of the issues and helped us understand what we can do to help the workers while Ikea tries to smash their union here, before likely taking on their only other unionized store in Canada, in Montreal. This lockout is also an attempt to undermine other union organizing drives, despite the 70% unionization rate of Ikea workers in Sweden.
And here are a few other things we should keep in mind.
The BC minimum wage is $10.25/hour, but less if you get tips on the job, minimum wage is $9/hour. This increase in 2012 came after the minimum wage was frozen at $8 for a decade under the business-friendly government.
In Washington, DC, the city council passed a living wage by-law [see below] DESPITE Walmart [Ikea’s labour relations mentor] threatening to cancel 3 stores planned for the area.
Should the bill be signed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and pass a congressional review period, retailers with corporate sales of $1 billion or more and operating in spaces 75,000 square feet or larger would be required to pay employees no less than $12.50 an hour. The city’s minimum wage is $8.25, a dollar higher than the federal minimum wage.
Generating enough media spin to rival a jet engine at take off, the management and PR folks at Ikea Canada want you to believe that their poor little corporation is being held hostage by greedy, soulless union workers in Richmond.
Meanwhile, back in Lotusland, 300+ workers of the mega-Ikea store in Richmond are embroiled in a rapidly degenerating labor dispute. Members of the Teamsters Local #213 are locked out, and the store continues to skeleton crew it, while management utters threats in the news about further reducing the contract on the table if their slaves picketing staff doesn’t roll over and take the pounding.
It looks like some assembly may be required as things get tense in a labour dispute between some 300 union workers and management at the Richmond Ikea.
Manager Janet McGowan says the store has been operating on limited hours as Teamsters take job action.
But McGowan says they will now play hardball by gradually reducing the contract on the table if the union doesn’t sign soon, “So, on June 3rd, our co-workers would have a phase one offer that they could, in fact, be accepting and then we would give co-workers an additional five days before implementation of phase two and then an additional five days before the implementation of the phase three.”
Phase one would see a 500-dollar signing bonus go bye-bye, by phase three paid sick days would be cut in half.
If Ikea is so moral and fair, as their media relations people would have you think, why have the staff overwhelmingly rejected not one, not two, but THREE different offers by the company to date?
Ikea is attempting to drag workers back into the dark ages. Not just because they’re cheap, but because, according to their track record, they also enjoy it.
(Never mind that Richmond-area retail workers reside in one of the most expensive cities in the world. It’s not like they have homes or families, right? Who needs to eat?)
Ikea is not about ensuring fair living wages. It’s about profit. Not people.
I stand in solidarity with these men and women on the picket line.
Having been locked out by my employer for over a month in the summer of 2000, I understand what these people are going through. Spending your nights and days on a picket line, in all kinds of weather, all times of day, and not knowing what comes next is scary.
Here is what happens:
The first few days are adrenaline-fueled and high-energy. There is solidarity. There is power in numbers. Everyone is prepared to stick it to the man.
As time slithers on, and the rhetoric from the employer grows increasingly hostile, infighting starts. Division.
People start to blame each other. Blame the union. Question whether they made the right choice. Side with the employer. Discomfort and unknowns don’t bring out the best in people.
When weeks near months, people become afraid. Union stipends/wage replacements are not enough in Vancouver. People start looking for other jobs.
The ones who hang in there start to feel guilt, and become compelled to accept whatever comes down the pipe from corporate, just to end the sustained duress.
The media portrays the workers as lazy, ignorant and willfully spiteful. Goodwill diminishes. There is a lack of public support.
The union organizers work hard to rally, but the morale just isn’t there, and their job grows increasingly difficult.
They need support. Your support. Our support. These are families and community members, not a faceless corporate entity.
Ways in which we can help boost the cause of the locked out Ikea workers in Richmond/Teamsters Local 213:
Boycott Richmond Ikea. Don’t shop there. Don’t give them your money.
Boycott ALL Ikea locations. Don’t go running down the road to Coquitlam. (The breakfast is cheap for a reason.)
Don’t cross their picket lines. Ever.
Walk the picket line WITH them.
Bring by some food and beverage, especially if it is really hot or really cold.
If the weather becomes inclement, pop by with some shelter or weather related implements like umbrellas, ponchos or sunblock.
Respond to online editorials, radio talk shows, newspaper articles that spin in favour of Ikea and demonize labor unions/workers.