Ikea and the Right to Work

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    It’s not that stories about labor issues at the Ikea plant remind readers Tim Kaine supported Virginia’s right to work laws while in office that caught my attention. It is that there are issues at the plant concerning overtime. Overtime is the last drop of squeezable turnip blood in production.

    There is something amiss with plant management that cannot avoid unplanned overtime. There is something wrong with management that can’t find the new labor currency of part-timers; particularly in this economy, particularly in the Danville area. There is something deficient with management that cannot make the issues plaguing this plant go away.

    Those are some of the better reasons for a union at that plant. Swedwood Danville management can use a helping hand. Instead of OSHA finding the safety violations, and handing out citations, a more professional workforce with a vested interest in worker safety would find, correct, and prevent them. Maybe the union could provide its records of injured temporary workers when management forgets to record them. And maybe the trade skills of the Building and Wood Workers’ International could be brought to bear, solving the safety issues and bringing productivity to levels that reduce overtime requirements.  

    The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has been providing organizational assistance to workers for a while. They have to meet in secret out of concern for management reprisals against supporters. During the run-up to the holidays in December, it posted a website festively soliciting support for their efforts. The union claims a majority of eligible employees have signed cards expressing interest.

    In response, the factory – part of Ikea’s manufacturing subsidiary, Swedwood – hired the law firm Jackson Lewis, which has made its reputation keeping unions out of companies. Workers said Swedwood officials required employees to attend meetings at which management discouraged union membership. – Los Angles Times

    The corporate headquarters in Sweden is using time and space to distance itself from the troubles in Danville. But the Los Angles Times elicited a telling comment from Ikea spokesperson Ingrid Steen. She called the situation in Danville “sad” but said she could not discuss the complaints of specific employees. She said she had heard “rumors” about anti-union meetings at the plant but added that “this wouldn’t be anything that would be approved by the group management in Sweden.” Seems the management effectiveness problems extend to the top.

    But back to overtime. As an hourly wage earner, it was always nice to catch a few hours from time to time, particularly around the holidays. But there is a management technique in vogue today that focuses on eliminating that controllable variable cost to slim down labor costs. In fact, many companies view every non-management hire as a part-time employee, no longer guaranteeing 40 hours a week. Business is slow, let employees go home early. “Let” them go home early. And when the Ikea plant in Danville catches that cold, that will be another reason the workers there will long for a union standing with them.

    The problems of the Democratic Party on this issue also extend to the top. Not only has Kaine failed to address the Virginia right to work laws effectively, the state party chairman, Brian Moran, publicly announced his support for the laws while campaigning for Governor. While another looming figure in the party, Terry McAuliffe, never really faced the issue during his primary race. He has privately said that he would not resist labor organization at his investors’ new auto plant in another right to work state, Mississippi. When he eventually faces a Republican opponent, he too will have to cross the Rubicon. Maybe by then, he’ll be able to point toward Mississippi with head held high. Gracious, we’re going to look to Mississippi for an example.