IKEA’s first and only U.S. furniture plant is making international headlines because of management's rocky relationship with its workers.

According to an exclusive Los Angeles Times report, woodworkers at IKEA’s manufacturing subsidiary Swedwood, in Danville, VA, are trying to form a union with the International Association of Machinists (IAM). Those attempts by the company’s 335 workers were stalled when management hired a law firm with a reputation for rebuffing unionization. IKEA is also dealing with racial discrimination claims and high turnover due to working conditions, according to the Times story.

IAM's December 1, 2010, newsletter described not only the union's organizing efforts, but the attention it was attracting in Sweden from some of the country's largest newspapers. IKEA is widely known in Europe as a good employer with a responsible corporate philosophy. Swedwood’s European factories are unionized and according to the Times report, Swedish workers earn $19 per hour as compared to the $8 per hour most Danville workers receive since their wages were reportedly cut from $9.75 per hour.

IKEA has a Global Framework Agreement with an international union for builders and woodworkers, BWI, which IAM says, “calls on IKEA to assist in the formation of unions at its locations around the world.” According to BWI, the union's access to the Danville facility was delayed, which is a violation of that agreement. (Also view BWI's video below.)

Former North American vice president of Swedwood, Jörgen Lindquist, said in WWP’s 2008 report that the move to Danville was "good economics" because it reduced costs in lead times, currency exposure and transportation. Also, important was the availability of sustainable materials and the area’s large labor pool. IKEA estimated at the time that more than 700 jobs would be created when the full project of four manufacturing facilities on its 209-acre site was completed. The company received state and local incentives for the project, totaling more than $12 million.

Union battle brewing at IKEA’s U.S. plant
Photo credit: Karen Koenig

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