IKEA’s Turkish Labor Issue

Wall Street Journal article: IKEA’s Turkish Labor Issue
(Excerpted from WSJ) Wednesday 12 September 2012

ISTANBUL—IKEA’s largely autonomous operation in Turkey is moving to guard the Swedish furniture giant’s reputation by threatening legal action against a local labor union that has staged a bitter campaign painting the company as a corporate bully looking to prevent workers from organizing.

The dispute dates back to late 2011 and stems from claims made by Turkey’s Koop-Is union, which already represents hundreds of IKEA workers.

On Saturday, more than 1,000 demonstrators gathered on an empty plot of land across from one of IKEA’s stores, with protesters causing traffic jams as they walked along the road while carrying anti-IKEA slogans.

Koop-Is alleges the company has tried to pressure workers not to join the union, and thus preventing it from reaching a majority representation where it could achieve collective bargaining, by dismissing or demoting employees who sign up and downgrading their performance reviews.

Members of the Koop-Is union gathered near an IKEA store in Istanbul Saturday before a protest march.

IKEA Turkey says the allegations aren’t fair and is threatening to take legal action against Koop-Is, recently firing off a warning letter. The union has responded by threatening to stage more demonstrations in front of more stores.

IKEA has about 2,000 employees and five stores in Turkey, including two locations in Istanbul. The stores are operated by independent franchisee Mapa Mobilya.

The company, known for its blue and yellow branding, has labored in recent years to cultivate an image as a family friendly furniture retailer based on a Swedish heritage that values togetherness, respect and humility. The firm has at times been quick to respond to public pressure related to its business practices.

Still, IKEA has raised some concerns. Earlier this year, IKEA dismissed four French managers who allegedly spied on company staffers. And union disputes at its Virginia manufacturing plant have made headlines in the U.S.

Koop-Is represents a broad swath of Turkey’s employee base—from farmers’ cooperatives to teachers to rail workers. It also represents about one-third of IKEA employees here, but needs significantly more to join in order to secure collective bargaining rights.

During Saturday’s demonstration, Koop-Is Chairman Eyup Alemdar accused IKEA managers of encouraging employees to spy on one another and said the company has called the homes of workers pressuring them not to join his union. He also said IKEA has dismissed or demoted employees who join the union, and downgraded their performance reviews.

The allegations are “unfounded” and “groundless,” according to an emailed statement from IKEA Turkey. The statement characterized the claims by Koop-Is as being damaging to IKEA’s brand reputation.

“IKEA Turkey does not have the option to remain ambivalent against unreal propaganda that is disrupting the calm and peace of the work environment, because of these statements against the law and truth, the firm is mobilizing to use its right to appeal to legal means,” said IKEA Turkey in the statement. The company said it remains open to having discussions on the issue.

A Koop-Is official said the union hasn’t heard anything from IKEA since the letter warning of legal action was sent last week, and said the company’s position is “completely imaginary and has no legal validity.” This person didn’t want to be named because they aren’t authorized to speak on behalf of the union.

The union will wait 10 to 15 days to see if IKEA Turkey’s position changes. If it doesn’t, “the first foreseeable action is to spread the demonstrations to all five cities where IKEA has stores,” the union official said.

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