Va. union drive puts IKEA's global image to a test

July 23, 2011 - 10:29 AM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Workers at IKEA's only U.S. plant are deciding whether to unionize.

Approximately 320 workers at IKEA's Swedwood plant in Danville, Va., will vote Wednesday on joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The union is challenging the Swedish furniture giant's vaunted corporate ethos, accusing the retailer of paying its American workers low wages and tolerating unsafe working conditions.

The machinists union has put IKEA's reputation as a labor- and environment-friendly Swedish employer at the forefront of its organizing drive at the Swedwood subsidiary, which assembles low-cost bookshelves and coffee tables for the big-box retailer.

An IKEA spokeswoman denied union allegations that the Virginia plant operates in conflict with IKEA's principles, saying the Danville operation has consistently measured up to its own internal and third-party audits.