The summer sun was shining Wednesday, but the drawn-out labour dispute at Ikeas Richmond location has cast a dark cloud over one longtime employee.
Linda Mueller, who works as a cashier in the stores 600-seat restaurant, has been with the Swedish home furnishings giant since it downed roots in Richmond back in 1979.
Then, the store was located on No. 3 Road, a couple of blocks or so south of Cambie Road. And with around 50 employees, it fostered a family-like atmosphere.
Today, at the sprawling, new outlet the showroom alone covers 60,000-square-feet and the operation employs close to 400 in north-east Richmond that opened in April 2012, those close ties among employees no longer exist.
Mueller, 61, says the change is a shame, and heightens her disappointment the 300 or so unionized workers represented by Teamsters Local 213 and their employer are still at odds after nearly three months.
Wednesday, to be exact, was day number 88 on the picket line for Mueller and her co-workers, many of whom she said are not as fortunate as her to get full time hours.
Some people are getting just four hours a week, she said, adding that is the way the company is not on the hook of providing benefits to workers.
Under the expired collective agreement, Ikea Richmond employees have to work 15 hours in order to qualify for benefits coverage. The company had offered workers putting in 15 to 23 hours a week 80 per cent company paid benefits for themselves.
And those working more than 24 hours a week would qualify for 100 per cent company paid benefits for themselves and their families.
Those offers were rejected by the union.
The company has maintained it has always been its ambition to reach a fair resolution.
Thats why on July 13, Ikea entered into mediation in good faith and provided the union with an amended proposal eliminating a two-tier wage system, which was the primary barrier that brought the parties into mediation.
The alternate wage system included a two per cent automatic annual increase, as well as a potential six per cent annual increase tied to the stores performance. That would amount to four per cent for meeting the country average and an additional two per cent for exceeding it.
The company also stated that 50 per cent of Ikea Richmond employees earn $18 an hour or more, and the average wage is more than $16 an hour.
We believe that this is a fair and generous wage and is well above retail industry averages, stated Ikea.
Faced with the companys offers, the union remained unconvinced they would benefit its members and declined them.
The company also proposed changes to address what it considered as the stores poor performance Ikea ranks Richmond worst out of its 12 Canadian operations.
And thats especially discouraging, states the company, given the investment in the new store.
Despite the Ikea Richmond store being set-up to be a leading store on all metrics in the country, the store continues to underperform, stated the company in a press release. The global investment request that we aimed to meet in the first year, will now not be met until four years later.
But thats misplaced criticism, Meuller said, adding the responsibility for achieving sales cannot be put solely on the shoulders of the unionized workforce management also needs to be accountable.
As the dispute enters month number four, Mueller said that even when the issues are finally resolved and the workers return to their posts, she expects there to be a long-lasting hangover period since 27 members from the Teamsters local crossed the picket lines and returned to work a number of weeks ago.
Its going to be hard going back and seeing those workers there, she said, adding the union has already expelled them.
Its definitely not like family anymore, she said.
No dates have been set to resume negotiations between the union and Ikea.
And as anyone knows, when you have a new store, the customers need time to get used to it and re-establish their shopping patterns, she said. That can take a couple of years.
© Copyright 2013