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LAT finds Ikea’s Swedish culture didn’t make it to Virginia plant

Ikea Per Ola Wiberg ~ Powi

Los Angeles Times reporter Nathaniel Popper looked into how the culture of Swedish retailer Ikea failed to make it to its plant in Danville, Va. This photo of an Ikea store is by Flickr user Per Ola Wiberg ~ Powi.

Nathaniel Popper, the New York correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, wrote about the collapse of Harry & David last year, prompting comments from readers about their own employment horror stories. He even got complaints about Ikea, one of my favorite destinations for decorating ideas, fun kids’ stuff and indoor exercise during the cold Midwest months.

“This one caught my eye because it was about a brand we all know, and a brand that holds itself as more than just an ordinary company,” he says.

So he jetted down to Virginia and found the Danville factory of Ikea wasn’t meeting the same standards as the Swedish company’s headquarters where, as the story notes, the minimum wage is $19 an hour and workers get five weeks of vacation versus the $8 minimum and 12 days off in the U.S. He found in Virginia that the company was “the target of racial-discrimination complaints, a heated union-organizing battle and turnover from disgruntled employees.

Nathaniel Popper Los Angeles Times Reynolds Center

Nathaniel Popper, New York correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, attended the Reynolds Center's Strictly Financials seminar in January 2011.

“Workers complain of eliminated raises, a frenzied pace and mandatory overtime. Several said it’s common to find out on Friday evening that they’ll have to pull a weekend shift, with disciplinary action for those who can’t or don’t show up.”

Today’s First Tip: Read emails and listen to phone calls from readers after writing stories.

“Frequently, your next story is in there somewhere,” Nathaniel says.

Today’s Second Tip: Don’t just pursue the top executives, but talk with rank-and-file employees, too.

“When covering big brand names, it is important to listen to the people on the lowest end of the totem pole at those companies,” Nathaniel says. “Often times, they will have a unique and valuable perspective on the company – and will provide a way to write about business that isn’t all share prices and balance sheets.”

About the Author

Rosland Gammon is a former business journalist turned college instructor. Her newsroom experience includes reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and reporting and editing at Bloomberg News. Gammon currently teaches communications at Alverno College in Milwaukee. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Rosland Gammon

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