The seasons and the calendar may have changed, but the labour dispute at Ikea’s Richmond store remains intact as workers get set to mark a year on the picket line.
About 300 members of Teamsters Local 213 have been surviving on strike pay — the equivalent of about half their wages — since mid-May 2013 and are convinced the Swedish home furnishings giant is out to try and break the union now that they feel the matter has reached an impasse.
At issue is the status of 35 or so unionized workers who returned to their jobs early in the dispute. They have been expelled by the union which has demanded they be removed from the workplace before the union workers return to their jobs, should an agreement be reached.
“It looks like union busting,” said Keith Austin, who has worked for Ikea locally for 27 years. “There’s certainly not an economic reason for Ikea to do this to the employees.
“This is so out of character with the Ikea we’ve been used to dealing with since the union came in 30 years ago,” he added. “We don’t know where it’s coming from, except to say it looks like union busting.”
Calling for the removal of staff who returned to their jobs is “unprecedented” said Ikea spokeswoman Madeleine Löwenborg-Frick in an email to the Richmond News.
“There has not been a case in B.C. history where a government agency has intervened and fired people for legally doing their own job,” she wrote, adding last December Ikea suggested that all workers return to their jobs under the terms of the expired collective agreement while parties resumed negotiations.
Löwenborg-Frick claims that the union’s demands have shifted during the dispute, leaving some critical issues outstanding.
“Despite this fact, the Teamsters claim Ikea has bargained to an impasse over the employees the union wants terminated,” she wrote. “Ikea has continued to introduce proposals to meet the issues the Teamsters had originally outlined as the primary reasons for this strike. However, terminating employees for legally returning to perform their own job is unacceptable to Ikea and is legally unprecedented.”
The union claims the company created the current impasse and has filed an action with the Labour Board asking it to break the log jam by ordering the employees back to work, but without those who broke ranks with the union.
They are also asking the two sides be placed in mediation.
But even if that is accomplished, the damage to the camaraderie among workers has been done, and may never be the same.
“With the people who have crossed the picket line, that sense of family we had as fellow workers cannot be repaired. It’s seen as a betrayal of their fellow union members,” Austin said.