Ikea and unions

16 Apr
IKEA Regensburg

Image via Wikipedia

In a recently published article on the Los Angeles Times website, Ikea is having some troubles with a recently opened factory in Danville, VA.

Danville, like so many other U.S. cities has been hurt by the poor economy and like so many others suffers from a high unemployment rate. Roughly three years ago, it appeared that things were finally going to turn around. Ikea’s manufacturing subsidiary, Swedwood, chose Danville to build an enormous factory to reduce the cost of shipping products to Ikea’s U.S. stores. State and local officials offered the company $12 million in tax incentives (sound familiar). The factory was going to employ nearly 350 people, surely enough to help hammer that unemployment rate down. Problem is, when you’re giving out insane tax incentives to entice corporations to flock to your area you’re bound to get some corporations that may not work out to well. You see, desperate people will take those jobs, your unemployment rate will drop but you’ll see an increase in working poor.

Fast-forward to today, and you’ll see an entirely different attitude towards this newcomer. Racial discrimination, eliminated raises, crappy wages, union-organizing battles, high turnover of disgruntled employees, mandatory overtime, and a frenzied pace. After many of these complaints began to collect, many of the employees attempted to form a union. To combat this, the factory hired a law firm, notorious for attacking unions, and began requiring employees to attend meetings where union membership was discouraged.

All these things are apparently a huge violation of Ikea’s IWAY policies, which guarantee workers the right to organize and requires that all overtime be voluntary. According to one employee, it was not uncommon to be notified Friday of a requirement to work all weekend, not showing up was was generally met with disciplinary action. The Swedish equivalent of this factory is supposedly appalled by this treatment of the American workforce. In Sweden, much of the labor force is unionized and Ikea is a beloved corporation. Swedish employees receive a minimum wage of about $19 an hour plus a government required five weeks of paid vacation. In Danville, on the other hand, employees only receive $8 an hour and 12 vacation days (eight of which are on dates set by the employer).

This is just sad, and exactly why unions came about in the first place. Given the recent attitude towards unions, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see unions simply outlawed within the next decade. Swedwood’s spokeswoman, Ingrid Steen, claimed that the disparity in pay are related to the standard of living and general conditions in the different countries. Oh! You mean your Swedish employees get a better standard of living than their American counterparts? That may explain a few bucks but certainly not why it’s double. And what about that whole vacation thing, they probably act like they’re so wholesome because they offer their Swedish employees five weeks of paid vacation. But let’s be honest, if the government wasn’t forcing them to do that, they’d probably be offering the same as what they’re giving the American employees. Do these employee’s deserve $19 an hour for a possibly manual task? Probably not, do they deserve better than what they’re getting now (not just pay, but also benefits and treatment), absolutely.

I know what some may be thinking, if they don’t like it, they don’t have to work there. That always seems to be the solution provided by those that already have jobs they absolutely love and could have no possible idea what these people are going through. They’ve already established that employment in that area is sparse. So let’s say they quit their job and look elsewhere for work, which some of them actually did, are there actually any other jobs available? Say there isn’t, then what, move to another city with more options, easier said than done. All that aside, that doesn’t justify the obviously poor treatment they receive from their employer. Thinking that, like a free-market, if they have problems getting employees that they’ll naturally change their ways is foolish, in times like this, choices are slim which means there will always be a desperate workforce. Which is exactly why this factory seems to believe they can get away with treating them like garbage.

It isn’t just about how much money they’re making, there’s more to it than that.

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Posted by on April 16, 2011 in General


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