Happy anniversary, IKEA: Richmond, B.C., workers enter second year of picketing

IKEA rally, May 10, 2014 in Richmond, B.C., courtesy Teamsters Local 213.

The difficulty of building an IKEA coffee table is apparently nothing compared to how hard it is to build a bridge between a British Columbia furniture store and its employees, who have been embroiled in a standoff for a full year and are now about to enter their second.

Some 350 unionized employees of a Richmond, B.C., IKEA store have been on the picket line after contract talks broke down on May 13, 2013. When the strike inevitably stretches into Tuesday it will be the start of Year 2. That's an anniversary rarely seen in Canada.

"The strike has gone on too long, longer than anyone expected. And no one expected that we would be facing the one year mark this month," IKEA Canada wrote in an update last week.

Union leaders surely agree, and a rally was held outside the store over the weekend to call for a solution to the standoff. Yet solutions are not so easy to come by after such an extensive standoff. Just as the Hatfields and the McCoys.

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According to the union, management locked out 350 employees last May after two offers calling for concessions and wage adjustments were rejected by union members.

The standoff has continued essentially unabated since then and the B.C. labour board has been called in to negotiate a conclusion, though the standoff has moved beyond the issue of a controversial tiered wage system.

Tensions have instead been focused on the fate of some three dozen workers who crossed the picket line over the past year and went back to work.

Via the Richmond News:

At issue is the status of 35 or so unionized workers who returned to their jobs early in the dispute. They have been expelled by the union which has demanded they be removed from the workplace before the union workers return to their jobs, should an agreement be reached.

A union spokesperson told The Province over the weekend that IKEA doesn't have to fire the now non-unionized workers; they could transfer them to other stores or promote them to management positions. IKEA, however, had dug in on the issue.

"What the union is asking for has never happened in B.C.’s history," reads an IKEA statement.

"We’ve suggested many other solutions that would see everyone back working together again; unfortunately the union has rejected them. IKEA disagrees with the union as it is our goal to have all of our co-workers working together again."

During the year-old standoff, the store has been running reduced hours four days a week. The restaurant and children's play area are also closed during this time, and returns and exchanges are not accepted at the location.

After a year, it is not really necessary to call them temporary changes. This is now business as usual for the Richmond IKEA. With no end in sight.