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Striking Ikea workers picket outside the Richmond Ikea store in Richmond, B.C. July 18, 2013. More than 300 Ikea workers have been locked out of their jobs for more than two months and are striking for higher wages, more hours and improved benefits. (Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail)
Striking Ikea workers picket outside the Richmond Ikea store in Richmond, B.C. July 18, 2013. More than 300 Ikea workers have been locked out of their jobs for more than two months and are striking for higher wages, more hours and improved benefits. (Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail)

Mediation talks progress in IKEA labour dispute Add to ...

Recent mediation sessions have raised hopes of a possible breakthrough in a two-month-old labour dispute at an IKEA store in Richmond that has taken meatballs off the menu and put about 350 workers on the picket lines.

“The parties were in mediation last Saturday and we continue to talk through a mediator,” Anita Dawson, business representative for Teamsters Local Union 213, said on Thursday. “There is not a date set for further talks, but we are still trying to exchange some information.”

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A company representative also referred to mediation as a positive development.

The labour dispute “is not in anybody’s best interests,” IKEA spokeswoman Madeleine Lowenborg-Frick said. “What we really want to focus on is making sure that through mediation we can reach an agreement that is fair for everybody – and that we can create a good working environment for everybody once everyone is back in the building.”

The store’s 350 employees were locked out on May 15 after rejecting a contract offer that included a revamped wage structure as well as changes to benefits and other provisions.

The lockout came around the same time the union had given strike notice after the two sides failed to come to terms on a new contract to replace a five-year pact that expired at the end of 2012.

Management personnel are keeping the store open, but its business hours have been reduced and some services, including the cafeteria and exchanges and returns, are not running.

The union, which has represented IKEA workers in Richmond for more than two decades, maintains the company’s contract offer asks employees to agree to significant wage and benefit concessions, including a two-tiered wage contract.

“This was something that we had fought hard in 2007 to basically eliminate,” Ms. Dawson said. “So when they came to the table and tried to introduce it again – we’re not interested in fighting the same fight.”

The Richmond IKEA outlet consistently underperforms other Canadian stores despite a $100-million investment by IKEA last year, Ms. Lowenborg-Frick said.

She would not say how much margins differed between stores, but said the difference was “significant.”

The 19,000-square-metre store opened last year next to the site of the previous, smaller outlet. IKEA spent about $100-million on the upgrade, Ms. Lowenborg-Frick said.

She strongly disputed suggestions made in some published reports that the lockout is aimed to break the union because unionized workplaces are most costly.

The wage and salary costs of the Richmond store and IKEA’s other Lower Mainland outlet, a non-unionized Coquitlam operation, are “pretty much in line,” she said.

“We do not want to get rid of the union, that has never been our ambition,” Ms. Lowenborg-Frick said. “We are not looking at union-busting – what we are looking at is to reach a fair collective agreement. That has always been our ambition.

“We have not set out to get the union out of the store; that is not an IKEA ambition – we respect co-workers’ rights to have third-party representation, it is part of our culture and values globally and it is not in our interest to be trying to get rid of the union.”

In June, departing IKEA chief executive officer Mikael Ohlsson told The Globe and Mail that Canada accounts for $1.4-billion of IKEA’s total $37-billion annual sales. The company is adding up to 10 stores a year in Canada and plans to add up to 25 stores a year, beginning in 2016.

Follow on Twitter: @wendy_stueck

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