No rubbish removal, no ads in the local newspaper and picketers at the entrance to his restaurant. That is what Amin Skov, the owner of Restaurant Vejlegården, has endured since he decided in November to sign a collective bargaining agreement with the independent trade union Krifa, instead of traditional trade union 3F.
The management of 3F, which organises unskilled labourers, reacted with a blockade against the popular eatery in March and the battle has continued since.
Poul Erik Christensen, president of 3F, defended the tactics critics have likened to the methods used by the Mafia.
“The owner did not want to pay the wages he had agreed to under our agreement,” Christensen told the press. “He decided instead to make a deal with Krifa. My role as a union leader is to make sure that our members have decent wages and working conditions.”
Christensen said the methods 3F is using are legal and defined in an agreement between labour confederation LO and employers’ confederation Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening. That agreement allows unions to organise strikes against businesses that do not sign collective bargaining agreements.
The bone of contention in the struggle is not that Restaurant Vejlegården is unwilling to sign a collective bargaining agreement. It has, just not with 3F. Skov chose instead to reach an agreement with Krifa, which is not a member of LO, but is instead one of a number of independent unions that typically offer lower dues to members and which have been draining members from LO unions in recent years.
Critics have asked 3F why employers do not have the right to sign collective bargaining agreements with the union of their choice.
“The employer wants free choice, but our members are the ones who wind up paying for his choice,” said Christensen. “When people are unemployed and receiving benefits, they could wind up getting assigned to work at this restaurant. If we do not have an agreement guaranteeing decent pay, our members could be assigned jobs with 10 or 20 percent lower wages.”
Members of the opposition have joined in criticising strong-arm tactics employed by a group Inger Støjborg (Venstre), the former employment minister, simply called “bullies”.
Christensen was undeterred by the name-calling.
“I am surprised that there are so many who are apparently unaware of the rules in Denmark,” he said. “We are well within our rights.”
The restaurant, however, is not the only business that has found itself dragged into the conflict. The local newspaper, Vejle Amts Folkeblad, was forced to drop advertisements for the restaurant after members of a printer’s union that supports 3F said they would refuse to print the paper if it ran them.
That situation seems to be on its way to being resolved, with both the paper and Skov saying the advertisements would be back soon.
The paper started looking for other printers when it became clear that it stood to lose as much as 300,000 kroner per week in lost revenue from not only the restaurant’s missing advertisement, but also those of other advertisers who pulled out in support of Skov.
“We looked for other printers in Denmark, but the problem is it has to be one who is not a member of an employers’ organisation,” said Alex Petersen, the paper’s managing director. “Otherwise, they could find themselves caught up in a lawsuit.”
Petersen said finding a foreign printer remained an option, and warned that 3F’s strike could very well force Danish jobs out of the country.
Hans Nicolaisen, a restaurant owner in near-by Horsens, called 3F’s methods “grotesque” and, was shocked that they were legal.
“They try to force me to be part of their agreements,” said Nicolaisen. “Most of the restaurants here do not want to work with 3F. They do not care if we close up, as long as their demands are met.”
During the time that Skov’s advertisements were blocked from the local paper, Nicolaisen posted them on his restaurant’s Facebook page.
He also posted a letter that Skov received from the Arbejdesmarkedsstyrelsen, the state labour authority, saying his advertisements for employees would have to be dropped from publicly funded job boards until the conflict with 3F was resolved. The law does not allow restaurants that are being blockaded to advertise for help.
“How horrible is it that the state that we pay taxes to can legally refuse to help a business find employees simply because a random organisation decides to blockade them,” said Nicolaisen.
Business at Restaurant Vejlegården has actually improved during the conflict, as town residents and visitors alike rally around Skov.
“Many people have heard about us in the media, and they are curious,” Skov told epn.dk. “Bookings are up 15 percent.”