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27 July 2011

Danville, Virginia: Swedwood Workers Vote Union YES!

In a secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, an agency of the United States Federal Government, workers at Swedwood’s operation in Danville Virginia voted to be represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), and affiliate of the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI). The final vote was 221 workers (76%) who voted for the union and 69 against. The election victory marks completion of the first phase in the struggle for workers rights and social justice for these Swedwood workers.

“Despite the ‘persuasive’ tactics and intervention strategies that the Swedwood management installed throughout the entire union election process, and to be frank, prior to that, the workers at Swedwood. They have emphatically said, yes to the union,” stated Ambet Yuson, General Secretary of the BWI.

Since 2008, the BWI and the IAMAW had been engaged in dialogue with IKEA and Swedwood for trade union recognition for the more than 300 workers at the Danville plant. After two years in failed talks, when it was clear that nothing positive would result out of additional negotiations, the IAMAW filed for trade union representation elections on June 20, 2011.

Rather than remaining neutral and supporting a “Fair and Friendly” election as IKEA management had discussed with BWI and the IAMAW, the United States-based Swedwood management continued to follow the advise of its union avoidance law firm and conducted several activities designed to alter the outcome of the election. Regardless of these intrusive tactics that ranged from “voluntary” meetings with Swedwood management; rumours of plant closure; and promises of bonuses should the union be defeated, the workers decided to join the union. Issues of safety and health, racial discrimination, dignity and basic human respect were the main grievances that the workers had expressed as reasons for voting to join the Machinists Union.

“The workers in Danville deserve to be congratulated for their courage and perseverance,” stated Klaus Wiesehugel, President of BWI. He continued, “It is not an easy thing to risk your job and possible ostracization from your community by doing the right thing. In this case, the right thing was voting for the union to ensure that they have control in improving their working conditions.”

The workers have voted for a union but clearly the struggle is not over as the next major hurdle for the workers is to negotiate a successful collective bargaining agreement that improves worker safety, promotes respectful treatment, and puts an end to favoritism and discrimination.

This was affirmed by Bill Street, Director of the Wood Works Department of the IAMAW. “It is disappointing that Swedwood refused to meet with the IAMAW at any point during this three year struggle. I can only hope that now that the law forces them to meet with us that they will listen to what we have to say, and engage us in a robust social dialogue. We would like to believe that the Swedwood management will honor the workers decision and engage in a fair bargaining process which will result in a binding agreement that will adequately address all issues and concerns of the workers. We hope this will enable us to put an end to the growing global outrage over the treatment in Danville and have a rapid restoration of both social dialogue and social justice”

Per-Olof Sjoo, Deputy Vice-President of BWI pledged continuous support for the now newly unionized workers in Danville. He stated, “BWI affiliates globally have been actively involved in this campaign. They have provided support and solidarity in so many facets and we will continue to do so until the new union bargain a successful agreement with the Swedwood management.”

“This struggle was global with support and assistance from every continent by more than 120,000 workers, various social partners, and many other global union federations” said Street. “There are not the words in the English language to express our gratitude and thanks to everyone who participated and made this first victory possible.”