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Labor's Edge: Views from the California Labor Movement

IKEA Workers Begin Building a Better Factory

by Will McDonald, American Rights at Work

In what is being hailed as an “incredibly significant” victory for workers, employees at IKEA’s Swedwood plant in Danville, Virginia, voted overwhelmingly to form a union Wednesday. Workers at the bookcase and furniture assembly site will be represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW).

In true IKEA fashion, the workers have begun to assemble a better future with their own hands. By organizing into a union they have gained a voice on the job and a place at the proverbial Scandinavian-styled table. They responded to the specific problems taking place in Danville, and now have the tools in hand to fashion a new workplace.

As we chronicled earlier this summer, IKEA employees in Danville were spurred to organize after facing pay cuts, mandatory overtime, racial discrimination, and dangerous conditions on the job. IKEA flew in notorious unionbusting firms and attempted to intimidate the employees before the election. When we helped spread the word about what was going on at Danville, our activists responded by sending IKEA’s CEO more than 22,000 letters.

IKEA’s actions drew international criticism, including in Sweden, where the company’s anti-worker policies were seen as irresponsible and hypocritical. As Building and Woodworkers International (of whom IAMAW is an affiliate) President Klaus Wiesehugel noted, the workers at the Virginia plant showed tremendous strength:

The workers in Danville deserve to be congratulated for their courage and perseverance. It is not an easy thing to risk your job and possible ostracization from your community by doing the right thing. In this case, the right thing was voting for the union to ensure that they have control in improving their working conditions.

The victory in Virginia completes an impressive week for America’s workers. On July 20 T-Mobile employees in Connecticut formed a union with the Communications Workers of America. Like IKEA, T-Mobile’s parent company Deutsche Telecom respects workers’ rights at home, but has been hostile to workers in the United States. Hopefully, the positive changes at IKEA and T-Mobile are the beginning of a new era. Foreign companies who come into the United States cannot assume lower standards for America’s workers.

The rebuilding of working America has begun, one union at a time.

Posted on 07/28/2011Permalink

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