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Picket line still surrounds IKEA one year later

Unionized IKEA workers and supporters picket outside the Richmond store at a recent rally, as the now year-old labour dispute continues. - Michael Weeks
Unionized IKEA workers and supporters picket outside the Richmond store at a recent rally, as the now year-old labour dispute continues.
— image credit: Michael Weeks

Unionized workers at Richmond IKEA will mark one year on the picket line at a rally Saturday, as a long-running labour dispute shows no sign of resolution.

Approximately 325 workers represented by Teamsters Local 213 have been out of work since May 13, 2013, when pickets went up around the Swedish furniture giant’s local store.

Both sides are entrenched on at least one issue—what to do with as many as 35 workers who crossed the picket line and returned to work. The union expelled the workers, but the company insists they have the right to continue working if a settlement is reached.

The Jacombs Road store has remained open during the dispute with reduced hours and services. At a rally last week, union members marched with banners “IKEA HURTS FAMILIES” and “DO NOT SHOP AT IKEA” while shoppers continued to enter the store’s parking lot.

Teamsters representative Anita Dawson faced cameras recording the scene for IKEA, saying she had one message for the company: “Go back to the bargaining table. End of story.”

In an interview Tuesday, Dawson, a former IKEA employee, said she’s never been part of such a long dispute. She acknowledged it’s been hard on union members.

“Some of them have tried to locate second jobs and tighten the belt, so to speak, in what they’re spending their money on. It’s definitely been a difficult year, but…we’re trying to maintain what we’ve got,” she said. “This is a big company that has extremely deep pockets, and they’re trying to break us. That’s their bottom line.”

So far bargaining, mediation and litigation appears to have done little to lessen the divide.

There have been four votes on three offers, according to Dawson, who said members unanimously rejected the last formal offer in July. Now the union has asked the B.C. Labour Board to step in to restart bargaining.

IKEA says the Teamsters are asking for the expelled workers to be fired—a charge the union rejects. Dawson said union is only seeking to have the workers relocated, having violated union principles.

Meanwhile IKEA says it offered to put unionized members back to work under the terms of the expired contract while the parties resume negotiations, but the union denies a formal offer was ever made.

“IKEA has made every effort throughout the dispute to reach a fair collective agreement; including offering several different proposals which addressed the union’s leading concerns,” according to a statement provided by spokesperson Madeleine Löwenborg-Frick. “However, terminating employees for legally returning to perform their own job is unacceptable to IKEA and is legally unprecedented.”

Few such labour disputes have lasted this long in recent B.C. history. One that stretched longer—nearly 15 months—involved Rocky Mountaineer. Another came close: the North Shore Winter Club dispute lasted seven months.

“In all these cases they have some things in common, which is they’re all lockouts. They were all created by the employer,” said Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour.

Also rare are labour disputes involving workers crossing picket lines to return to work—something IKEA workers were encouraged to do, said Sinclair.

“Most employers do not do this, because it creates such a hurdle to get over to get their employees back to work again. It really is an attempt to break the union.”

At last week’s rally, NDP caucus chair Shane Simpson said his party supports the picketing workers. He called on IKEA to get back to bargaining a fair deal.

“It’s pretty clear this company wants to bust this union. That can’t be allowed to happen. It really is critical workers have rights, that include the right to organize, the right to fair collective bargaining and the right to be treated with respect in your workplace,” he said.

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