The nearly 18-month-long lockout of unionized workers at IKEA’s store in Richmond, British Columbia, has ended.
Mediator Vince Ready joined the negotiations between IKEA and the Teamsters Union just after helping the BC Teachers’ Federation and the BC government resolve their bitter dispute. According to several media reports, Ready briefly met with both parties, and then informed them that he would only continue to mediate the dispute if he would be permitted to arbitrate a resolution. The parties agreed to this, and Ready’s arbitration resulted in the end of the dispute on Oct. 22.
The dispute resolution process that was used in this situation is called “mediation-arbitration” or “med-arb”. It’s fairly unusual for this process to be used in private sector bargaining disputes. It’s more common to see med-arb used to resolve bargaining disputes in the public sector – especially in occupations such as policing or firefighting, where a strike or lockout is not feasible because of the danger to public safety that would be caused by a shutdown of services.
Med-arb tries to first resolve differences through mediation, but if that doesn’t work, the mediator takes on the role of arbitrator. The advantages of this process are that, rather than going straight to arbitration, it first allows a chance for the dispute to be voluntarily resolved through mediation. Then, if the dispute does go to arbitration, appointing the mediator – who is already familiar with the dispute – as the arbitrator avoids the delay of finding a new arbitrator and then getting them up to speed on the facts of the dispute.
Ready’s arbitration award created a collective agreement with a term of 10 years. This is an unusually long term – the average collective agreement term in Canada is around three years – and it’s especially lengthy for a private sector organization. I suspect that this stipulation may have something to do with another part of Ready’s decision: that the unionized employees who crossed the picket line and went back to work during the dispute would be permitted to keep their jobs. It’s likely that there will be a fair amount of bad feeling in the workplace between those who crossed the picket line and those who didn’t. A 10-year-long collective agreement may provide stability in the workplace that may help those conflicts disappear as time passes.
The locked-out IKEA workers showed a great deal of commitment to their cause. I admire them for holding their ground against a very large and very wealthy company that demonstrated some shameful behaviour during the dispute. Hopefully these workers’ determination will be a positive example and an inspiration for other workers in similar situations.