The war between IKEA in Richmond and unionized workers is showing some signs of abating after store bosses and Teamsters Local 213 representatives met with a mediator on Saturday.
Its not clear how positive those talks were or how much longer the strike will go on.
Workers started job action two months ago to protest benefits cuts and the re-introduction of a two-tier wage system.
The mediation was overshadowed slightly, however, of news that some workers among the 350-strong membership who chose to return to work have either been fined or been expelled from the union.
Yes, that happened because they crossed the picket line, said union spokesperson Anita Dawson.
Theres a whole process the union goes through and that was the decided outcome for those employees. They had opportunities to address the union.
Dawson added these instances wouldnt impact the bargaining process. For the large part, these employees crossed at the beginning though. Its not an ongoing process. Its not part of our bargaining and doesnt affect it.
The union conducted a hearing at the Union Hall, where 27 workers were expelled for returning to work. Since then, five additional workers have been fined with the threat of expulsion, said Madeleine Lowenborg-Frick, public relations manager at IKEA.
Currently, employees receive 80 per cent company paid benefits if they work 15 to 19 hours per week. Once they work 20 hours per week, they are eligible to receive full benefits for themselves and their families.
IKEA is proposing to increase the hours from 15 to 19 per week, to 15 to 23 hours per week. Only at 24 hours will employees receive full benefits for themselves and their families.
When dealing with a largely part-time workforce, those four hours are significant, said Dawson. They are taking away benefits by increasing the amount of hours required. Its also not the same benefit package.
Of 350 employees, 70 are full-time, according to Dawson. Forty of the remaining employees are guaranteed 30 hours per week, which Dawson said IKEA wants to reduce to 35 employees.
Besides changes to benefit eligibility, the latest offer by IKEA included an increase in wage ranging from $10.79 to $24.03, up from $10.25 to $23.67, said Lowenborg-Frick.
© Copyright 2013