DANVILLE, Va. - An election today at IKEA's Swedwood furniture plant will determine whether workers at the plant will have a union to represent them.
One of the big problems, according to the union, is that among the 318 workers casting ballots are 30 "team captains" who Swedwood, the IKEA subsidiary that runs the plant, wanted to include in the process.
Machinists union organizer William Street says that even with those 30 supervisors included in the pool of eligible voters the union has a clear majority of 55 percent. Union supporters note, however, that companies have a built in advantage when elections occur at the worksite with workers fearful that bosses are able to figure out how workers vote.
Street said the union's campaign of contacting workers continued right up to the last minute.
A company spokesman, Ken Brown, said "Swedwood supports freedom of association and thus the co-workers' right to choose or not choose a union."
Union reps say that if IKEA was serious about its commitment to freedom of association it would not have forced workers to accept 30 supervisors as part of the group of eligible voters. The company has not respected the right of its workers to choose not to associate with supervisors in their bargaining unit, the union says.
The Machinists have said they would be willing to help "team captains," if they really wanted a union, to form a separate bargaining unit.
Union supporters note that statements by management that it wants everyone eligible to vote today really mean that the company wants to be sure the team captains vote in order to dilute the strength of pro-union workers.
The International Association of Machinists' woodworking division has been helping workers who want a union at the plant since early 2009. The company has repeatedly refused to recognize the union despite the fact that majorities of the workers have signed pledge cards of union support. It agreed last month to the secret ballot election that is being held today.
Previous stories in the Peoples World and elsewhere have documented a variety of circumstances at Danville that have fueled support for unionization. These include mandatory forced overtime, unsafe working conditions and discrimination based on race, sex and age.
A major issue is the fact that IKEA pays workers in Sweden $16 per hour for the same work that earns Danville workers only $8 an hour. The Swedwood plant is the only IKEA factory in the United States.
IKEA says that its own inspections of the plant show that most of the worker's complaints are unfounded.
"If that were really true, the union wouldn't be involved," said Street.
Image: Ikea stores worldwide as of 2009: green, in operation: blue, proposed. Wikimedia Commons.