DANVILLE, Va. - Only days after the Machinists union petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for an election to see if a majority of workers want a union at Swedwood Danville, an IKEA furniture maker, the company has rigged the process against its workers.
IKEA agreed this week to an election date of July 27, but only after adding 30 "team captains" to the voting pool, bringing the total in the pool to 318.
According to William Street, the lead organizer at the plant for the International Association of Machinists, the move adds 30 "no" votes to the voting pool and means that the union will now have to find an additional 25 supporters in order to offset those votes.
The company demanded inclusion of the team captains, the union says, as a condition for setting a "reasonable" July 27 election date. Companies frequently drag out the election date, the union says, so they can run anti-union propaganda campaigns and sometimes harass and even fire union backers before the election.
"It is ironic that IKEA, which claims it wants everyone to decide for themselves whether to be in the union, decides instead to force the 30 team captains into the unit," said Street. "There is only one reason for Swedwood to demand the team captains be in the union, and that is to influence the outcome of the election." Street, in addition to organizing the union's campaign at the plant, is director of the IAM's woodworking department.
IKEA, in an e-mailed response to previous Peoples World articles on the struggle to unionize at Danville, said that it respects its workers right to freedom of association, including their right to join or form unions without fear of reprisal or interference.
"I guess this doesn't apply to the Danville workers who do not wish to associate with team captains or team captains who do not wish to associate with the union," said Street. "It would be interesting to hear how IKEA will defend taking choice away from the workers to decide who they want in their own union," he added.
Calls to the company's public relations office were not returned.
Street noted that the IAM was "more than ready" to represent team captains in their own union if they were serious about wanting that representation. "But IKEA has no business interfering in the choice of the hourly non-supervisory workers to have a union of their own choosing," he declared.
Including the team captains in the voting unit gives IKEA a 10 percent cushion it can count on, right from the start, to vote against the union, Street says. He notes that because there are so many built in advantages for the company, union elections are rarely won by more than 10 percent of the vote.
The union organizing drive at the Danville plant has been fueled by both low wages and dangerous working conditions. IKEA's factory workers in Sweden are paid $19 per hour and get five weeks paid vacation every year. At the Danville plant, many earn only $8 an hour.
Workers at Danville have suffered more than 1,536 days of lost work due to accidents on the job in a recent 30-month period, according to the union.
Petitions have been put out on the Internet by Change.org for members of the public who want to support the workers. The petitions call upon IKEA to allow Danville workers to organize and make their own choices.
Photo via the Associated Press.