BUSINESS

Union says IKEA pays low wages, tolerates unsafe conditions

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Street, who brought in a union official from Sweden to talk to Danville workers this year, said he quietly began his organizing at Swedwood three years ago mindful of IKEA's reputation for paying and treating its workers fairly.

(Photo: Courtesy EpSos.de via Flickr)

"We thought to ourselves this was going to be a very simple, straightforward campaign," he said in an interview amid one of his many trips to Danville from his home in Oregon. "After all, this was IKEA."

Ultimately, he said, he concluded the message from IKEA was "Sure, no problem. As soon you get 51 percent of the workers, we'll come back and bargain."

Street was able to get the necessary 30 percent of the workers to support a union vote, and the National Labor Relations Board scheduled the balloting at the plant.

One of the union's complaints is that starting pay at Danville of $8 an hour is approximately half of what their Swedish counterparts earn.

"We know in terms of safety, in terms of health care, in terms of pension, their European counterparts are treated vastly superior than the workers in Danville," Street said.

IKEA's Steen described the pay and benefits of Danville workers as "very competitive in the region." She said many of IKEA's 16,000 workers worldwide are members of unions or worker associations, adding it's difficult to compare U.S. workers with workers in Europe.

"Conditions of different countries are very complex questions," she wrote. "It is difficult to compare different national systems (such as) taxes, cost of living, systems of social insurances, etc."

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