WE’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO OFFER THE LOW-WAGE WORKFORCE FOR FOREIGN COMPANIES…. Ikea’s labor dispute in Southern Virginia should be a bigger story.
When home furnishing giant Ikea selected this fraying blue-collar city to build its first U.S. factory, residents couldn’t believe their good fortune.
Beloved by consumers worldwide for its stylish and affordable furniture, the Swedish firm had also constructed a reputation as a good employer and solid corporate citizen. State and local officials offered $12 million in incentives. Residents thrilled at the prospect of a respected foreign company bringing jobs to this former textile region after watching so many flee overseas.
But three years after the massive facility opened here, excitement has waned. Ikea is the target of racial discrimination complaints, a heated union-organizing battle and turnover from disgruntled employees.
It’s quite an ordeal. Workers are forced to work overtime, often with little notice, and those who don’t go along face disciplinary action. Workers have been ordered to attend meetings at which management “discourages” them from forming a union, and Ikea has hired a law firm known for its anti-union efforts.
This is apparently front-page news in Sweden, where Ikea is a celebrated and iconic brand, and where the company is known for progressive labor practices. Indeed, most of the Ikea labor force in Sweden is already unionized.
So, what’s the problem?
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 day — 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. […]
Bill Street, who has tried to organize the Danville workers for the machinists union, said Ikea was taking advantage of the weaker protections afforded to U.S. workers.
“It’s ironic that Ikea looks on the U.S. and Danville the way that most people in the U.S. look at Mexico,” Street said.
Yep, thanks to anti-worker policies in the U.S., we’re offering the low-wage workforce for foreign companies to exploit and mistreat.
As Mark Kleiman put it, “It’s an old, old story: the customers of a company renowned for decent treatment of its workers in its prosperous home country are shocked to learn of its ruthless exploitation of workers in a less-prosperous country where the laws make it harder for workers to defend themselves. All that’s new is that the first-world country is Sweden and the third-world country is rural Virginia.”