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IKEA bargained in bad faith, says labour board

A picketer with Teamsters Local 213 outside IKEA earlier this month. Unionized workers have been off the job for 14 months due to a labour dispute. - Michael Weeks photo
A picketer with Teamsters Local 213 outside IKEA earlier this month. Unionized workers have been off the job for 14 months due to a labour dispute.
— image credit: Michael Weeks photo

The Labour Relations Board has ordered furniture-making giant IKEA to compensate the union representing striking workers for breaching two sections of the Labour Relations Code.

In a ruling released Thursday, Bruce R. Wilkins, associate chair of adjudication for the board, found that IKEA representatives tried to entice workers to cross the picket line with promises of pay premiums above and beyond what was offered to the union during rounds of collective bargaining talks.

In allegations made by Teamsters Local Union No. 213 that were not disputed by IKEA, employees on the picket line were “actively approached” by Suzanne Harrison, deputy Human Resource manager for IKEA Canada, and Madeline Lowenberg-Frick, spokesperson for IKEA Canada on May 14, 2014. Harrison and Lowenberg-Frick handed out copies of the Frequently Asked Questions section of the company’s website (richmondcoworkers.ca) that contained new information posted that same day, the ruling said.

That included:

•an automatic five per cent wage increase and $500 bonus;

•a $2.50 hourly premium for all hours worked “while the strike is ongoing.”

The last proposal by the company contained a three-per-cent annual wage increase.

The union also alleged Harrison confirmed during the discussion that the web posting was a new offer, and that Harrison said no worker in Canada had ever been fired for crossing a picket line, though IKEA denied these statements were made.

Wilkins found that IKEA violated the Labour Relations Code through its web posting.

“When it posted the web posting, however, the employer undermined the union and its exclusive bargaining agency under the code. At that point, the employer no longer met either the objective or subjective elements of the requirement to bargain in good faith...”

And by offering a wage increase greater than what it offered the union, the board found IKEA was “inducing the employer’s employees to refrain from becoming or continuing to be a member of a trade union.”

Wilkins ordered IKEA “pay to the union the amount equivalent to all monies paid to bargaining unit employees from the beginning of the labour dispute which are in excess of the pay the employer was willing to agree to with the union in collective bargaining.”

IKEA was also ordered to cease contravening the labour code, cease bargaining terms and conditions of employment directly with employees, and declare the terms and conditions offered to employees in the web posting in excess of what was offered to the union at the bargaining table as null and void.

It’s unclear how much the ruling might cost IKEA, which is appealing the decision to the board.

Anita Dawson, business rep for Teamsters 213, said another application to the labour board revolves around the 35 IKEA workers who crossed the picket line and returned to work.

The union claims that IKEA is not returning to the bargaining table until the issue of the future of those 35 workers is resolved.

The union wants this issue set aside and handled separately, Dawson said, while negotiations resume. Dawson said the union is amenable to having those 35 employees work at IKEA’s non-union site or having them promoted to management.

Madeleine Lowenberg-Frick said the premiums offered to those employees who crossed the picket line were only paid to fairly compensate those employees for the new work they were tackling.

“They are meeting these customers with a reduced workforce and are learning new skills and working in new areas. Many are performing functions that are higher paid roles with a higher level of responsibility from their usual jobs,” Lowenberg-Frick said.

Unionized IKEA workers have been picketing since May 13, 2013, approaching 15 months.

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