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Group of unions challenges Ikea

April 28, 2011|By Nathaniel Popper, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from New York — A global federation of labor unions is taking on Ikea over its treatment of workers at the Swedish company's first U.S. factory.

Workers at the Danville, Va., plant, which opened in 2008, say they are subject to mandatory overtime, racial discrimination and an aggressive effort by the company to keep out a union. Run by Ikea's manufacturing subsidiary, Swedwood, the factory was the subject of a Times article this month.

After a meeting this week in Washington, the International Trade Union Confederation released a statement saying it "has allocated substantial financial resources to make sure that this company acts responsibly in the USA."

The labor group, which says it represents 175 million workers in 151 countries, criticized the difference between Swedwood's treatment of its workers in Europe and those in the United States, where wages and benefits are less generous. The group also condemned safety problems at the Danville factory and the company's hiring of a law firm known for helping companies fight unionization campaigns.

"Ikea is taking advantage of the lax U.S. workers' protection," Sharan Burrow, the group's general secretary, said in the statement. "Clearly all is not well at this factory."

The labor group didn't specify the actions it would take to challenge Ikea.

Josefin Thorell, a spokeswoman for Ikea in Sweden, declined to comment on the group's statement except to say that the Danville factory was in compliance with Ikea's code of conduct.

Bill Street, a representative of the machinists union trying to organize the workers in Danville, said that after the Times article was published he was invited to speak with Ikea executives in the Netherlands, where the company has offices. But he said the meeting resulted in no agreement.

Thorell said Ikea has an "ongoing dialogue with the machinists union, trying to reach mutual understanding."

A few days after the Times article ran, Danville plant manager Ken Brown told the Danville Register & Bee, "I'm surprised that anyone would want a union."

"We treat people fairly, and we do want people to come there and work and leave safely and have a good time," Brown said.

nathaniel.popper@latimes.com

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