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Good vs. Easel: IKEA Hires Anti-Union Juggernaut Jackson Lewis to Challenge UFCW’s MA Organizing

image via Labor Notes

image via Labor Notes

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On Monday morning the overnight warehouse workers at IKEA’s Stoughton, Massachusetts store went on strike, the first action of its kind in the company’s American history.  It came just days after 75 percent of the “Goods Flow In” department signed a letter to management demanding recognition for their desire to be represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). 

The workers are seeking a “micro-bargaining unit,” an arrangement made possible by the 2011 NLRB decision in Specialty Healthcare.  The “Goods Flow In” department, which receives shipments and stocks the store, accounts for 32 of the Stoughton store’s 279 workers.  They are the only department seeking to unionize.  

The same day the workers delivered their letter to management, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders issued a public statement of support, decrying what he described as “blatant intimidation coupled with subtle, yet effective psychological warfare” from management:

“In my view, companies which fight workers who wish to bargain collectively are culpable in exacerbating the gap between the rich and poor in America.  I know this is not how IKEA USA would like to be considered by the American public. IKEA’s vision and values not only allow you to recognize Stoughton overnight coworkers’ decision to unionize, they demand it. I hope that you will trust them to be your guide.”

According to the Boston Globe, IKEA spokeswoman Mona Liss has gone on the record as saying the company will not recognize the workers’ demand for a union until they hold a secret ballot election administered by the NLRB.  Workers at four of IKEA’s five distribution centers are represented by unions. They all held elections by secret ballot.  The decision to force a secret ballot election, however, is precisely what led to the one-day strike.

The UFCW opposes a secret ballot election because it will give management time to discourage workers from unionizing. This could include captive audience meetings and coordinated anti-union campaigns.  IKEA has already hired notorious anti-union law firm Jackson Lewis to help them defeat the workers in Stoughton.  

Some workers, in fact, claim retaliation and intimidation are already underway.  In his piece for Labor Notes, writer Chris Brooks highlighted stories of Stoughton workers and the conditions they’re striking under.  Among those who spoke to Brooks was 28-year-old machine operator Shawn Morrison:

“We had a ‘code of conduct’ training that seemed routine until we were asked to go around the room and talk about our union sympathies.  That was routine, just a part of the training, until someone called it out. Another time the store manager called us up to the H.R. office. He dropped union literature on the table and asked us how we felt about it.”

Eight-year IKEA veteran Chris DeAngelo explained the timing of the strike to Labor Notes:

“We couldn’t wait any longer. We had to make some sort of decision,” DeAngelo said. “We know that we all have targets painted on us, especially those of us who have been there longer and are making more than the new recruits.  This store has been open 10 years and I have been there eight, and there has been no improvement. There is all this tension, all this instability, all this insecurity. You never know when the other shoe is about to drop.”

The anti-union stance in Massachusetts is a far cry from IKEA’s progressive public persona.  The company is set to begin paying its nearly 12,000 retail workers an $11.87 minimum wage on January 1st and has given the workers 401(k) plans, profit sharing, and pre-tax benefits for same-sex married couples.  

When it comes to unions, unfortunately, IKEA has been anything but progressive.  This was made clear to Shawn Morrison, who traveled to Milan, Italy, last month to attend the IKEA Global Alliance meeting.  There he learned that unionized European IKEA workers fear the company is leaning too hard towards “an American model.” Morrison explained:

One of the things that our European co-workers felt was that the company was shifting more and more towards the American model and that their labor unions would be in danger.  In Europe they kind of believe that the United States does not want unions.  Europe has gone such a long time thinking that the U.S. is just a barren wasteland of union activity, but we are showing them that that is not true.”

Morrison said that he believes the workers will be successful in unionizing if a secret ballot election is forced.  


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