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No end in sight for Richmond Ikea labour dispute

Ikea workers picket outside the Richmond Ikea store in Richmond, B.C. July 18, 2013.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Ikea store was closed three days a week. This version is correct.

A labour dispute at an Ikea store in Richmond appears no closer to resolution, as no talks are scheduled between the company and the union representing 300 full- and part-time employees.

Most employees at the store have been off the job since early May. The store has closed some departments, including a restaurant and children's play area, and is currently closed one day a week.

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There has been little communication between the two sides since late July, when the union rejected a revised contract offer from the company, says Anita Dawson, a business agent with Teamsters Local 213.

"It [the July offer] had a very complicated wage system [in which] if certain sales and productivity goals were not met, it could potentially take an employee who was working through a progression up to 20 years to get to the top rate of pay," Ms. Dawson said on Wednesday.

Ikea says it needs to improve productivity and reduce staff costs, saying the Richmond store's productivity is 30 per cent lower than the company's highest-performing store in the country, although it does not provide a per-store sales breakdown. Ikea has operated in Richmond since the 1970s and opened a new, bigger store in 2012. The Richmond store is one of only two unionized Ikea stores in Canada; the other one is in Montreal.

"Under the expired collective agreement, Ikea Richmond employees moved through the wage schedule too quickly, which increased staff costs at a much higher rate than the rest of the country," Ikea spokeswoman Madeleine Lowenborg-Frick said Wednesday in an e-mail. "We need to begin to align the Ikea Richmond store's wage progression with the rest of Canada."

Unionized store workers have been off the job since May 13, when Ikea briefly locked out employees. The company gave notice of the lockout immediately after receiving 72-hour strike notice from the union. After an hour, employees were invited back to work. About 30 have since crossed the picket line.

Since then, the union and Ikea have been before the B.C. Labour Relations Board several times to debate whether the dispute is a lockout or a strike.

In a Sept. 13 decision, the LRB found the "concerted action" of the union and its members constitutes a strike.

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However, the LRB said whether the dispute was or wasn't a strike didn't matter when it came to weighing the question in front of it – whether Ikea had breached a section of the provincial labour code by hiring replacement workers. On that front, the LRB found Ikea had breached the code in relation to three workers and ordered the company to "cease and desist."

Ikea has complied with the board's decision, Ms. Lowenborg-Frick said. No talks are scheduled.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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