Sunday, April 10, 2011

the IKEA embarrassment

I woke up this morning to Dan reading a story from The Los Angeles Times out aloud to me. It turns out that the mothership of Swedishness, IKEA, is in some trouble at its first US factory in Danville, Va. Workers are complaining of eliminated raises, a frenzied pace, and mandatory overtime. There are complaints about racial discrimination, and high turnover of workers. Here is a snippet from the story:

Some of the Virginia plant's 335 workers are trying to form a union. The International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said a majority of eligible employees had 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.

IKEA has been known for relying on a certain "Swedishness" in employee benefits, offering generous packages compared to other companies in the US. The situation at the Virginia factory is embarrassing. Here is more:

Laborers in Swedwood plants in Sweden produce bookcases and tables similar to those manufactured in Danville. The big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation. Full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days — eight of them on dates determined by the company.
What's more, as many as one-third of the workers at the Danville plant have been drawn from local temporary-staffing agencies. These workers receive even lower wages and no benefits, employees said.

Believe that? Twelve days of vacation a year, eight of them on days the company chooses for you?

I go to IKEA regularly, because it is my only slice of home away from home. The yellow and blue signs, and the familiar names of the products, make me feel good. I know the employees in the stores have decent contracts. I wish the same was true for those making the furniture.

No comments: