WASHINGTON -- Officials with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) union announced Thursday that more than 350 workers at an IKEA distribution center in Maryland have voted to join the union.
If the vote is certified by the federal labor board, the workers in Perryville, Md., will become the second American IKEA workforce to join the IAM's ranks. The first group, which is employed by the IKEA-owned Swedwood Group at a furniture factory in Danville, Va., voted overwhelmingly over the summer to join the union, a move that American labor activists considered a high-profile victory.
"I think they saw what happened in Danville and saw the deal we were able to negotiate there," Rick Sloan, an IAM spokesman, said of the Maryland employees. "It certainly helped."
The Maryland Cecil Daily reported the vote tally as 183-119 in favor of unionization. In a statement, Ed Morris, manager of the Perryville facility, said, "We accept the co-workers’ decision and look forward to working with their representatives in a mutually cooperative and respectful manner."
When the L.A. Times ran a story on the Virginia factory last April, the disgruntlement of some of the workers there shocked readers in the U.S. and abroad, given the furniture retailer's cultish following among consumers and generally solid reputation among employees. The company was criticized for an apparent double standard: While it was progressive and union-friendly in Europe, it did not show American workers the same kind of respect, critics said.
"IKEA is a very strong brand and they lean on some kind of good Swedishness in their business profile. That becomes a complication when they act like they do in the United States," a Swedish union official told the paper. "For us, it's a huge problem."
According to IAM official John Carr, who recently visited the Maryland site, the same workplace issues raised by employees in Virginia had cropped up in Maryland. In particular, workers wanted more of a hand in the scheduling, vacation and seniority systems. "These are things that are important in any place if you want to make a future and a career out of it," Carr said.
The National Labor Relations Board is expected to certify the vote within 10 days, Carr said. If it does, the union and the company will begin contract negotiations.