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Ikea face-off in Richmond marked by fourth contract offer rejection

Unionized workers locked out of the Richmond Ikea since May have unanimously rejected a fourth contract offer from the company, while other unions are calling for a boycott of the store at the centre of the dispute, as well as one in Coquitlam.

Ikea has been embroiled in a bitter labour fight with its Teamster employees at the Richmond outlet since May 13. The powerful firm reported US$32 billion in revenues last year.

Ikea management tabled a contract offer during mediation this July that was rejected by the union in a unanimous "no" vote. Three other offers from the company have been rejected by membership over the course of the dispute.

Meanwhile, an internal hearing at Teamsters local 213 stripped membership from 32 Ikea employees who broke with their union and chose to work behind picket lines.

Teamster business agent Anita Dawson said in its latest offer, Ikea pulled back from some of its earlier "backward bargaining", a strategy the company employed earlier in the dispute that involved gradually removing elements from its offer as the dispute continued.

The company also pulled back from its insistence on establishing multi-tiered wages, Dawson said, but the offer was still too weak to satisfy workers.

In June, Dawson told The Tyee that the company's proposed contract at that time "included a tiered wage system which will see some existing employees getting reduced wages and benefits." 

Ikea spokeswoman Madeleine Lowenborg-Frick said the Ikea Richmond store "has consistently been the lowest performing store in Canada, specifically having the lowest productivity while having the highest staff costs.

"IKEA provided the union with an amended proposal on July 17, eliminating the two-tier wage system, which was the primary barrier that brought the parties into mediation. The proposal allowed IKEA to address the union's expressed leading concern, while also addressing the store's poor performance," she wrote in an email.

Lowenborg-Frick explained that the company's last contract proposal made most of the possible wage increases contingent on the Richmond store hitting new productivity targets.

Ikea is missing the point, Dawson said.

"The company did table another offer on July 24 that did not have a two tier, but this offer was unanimously rejected by the bargaining unit because the only guaranteed wage increase for employees with four or more years of service was 1.5 per cent in the first year. Nothing guaranteed in subsequent years," Dawson said in an email.

"For employees with less than four years of service, the offer did not have a two-tier wage system, but it only guaranteed two per cent a year on the start rate until the wage got to current max. This means that it could take decades to reach top rate, i.e. if you start at $12 an hour at two per cent a year, it would take 23 years to get to $19.45."

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy beats for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at tos65@telus.net.

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