Fishkill Ridge
Community Heritage

Wal-Mart Would Rather Close Than Unionise

   

 Snowy BarnThe New York Times
February 10, 2005

Wal-Mart to Close Store in Canada With a Union
By IAN AUSTEN

OTTAWA, Feb. 9 - Wal-Mart Canada, a division of Wal-Mart Stores, said on Wednesday that it would close a store in Quebec where unionized workers are attempting to negotiate the first collective agreement in North America with the company.
A spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada, Andrew Pelletier, said the store in Jonquière, Quebec, would close in May because it had failed to meet financial goals, which he declined to specify.
"It has struggled from the beginning," Mr. Pelletier said of the store. "The situation has continued to deteriorate since the union. The store environment became very fractured because there were some people who were part of the union and some who were not."
Michael J. Fraser, national director of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, said that Wal-Mart's decision to close the store, a first for the company in Canada, was provoked by an application to Quebec's labor minister made last week by the union, which represents the employees at the store. Under an unusual provision of Quebec's labor laws, either a company or a union can ask for an arbitrator who can impose a first contract on newly organized workplaces.
"Wal-Mart has decided to go very hard against the union," said Christian Lévesque, a professor of labor relations at HEC Montreal, a business school. "The union must now show the workers that it will support them whatever Wal-Mart does. If it takes just a legalistic approach, it's dead."
Mr. Fraser said the decision to shut a store showed contempt for workers' right to join a union.
He said the union would appeal the closing to Quebec's labor relations board. But a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling affirmed the right of employers to close for any reason.
The situation may repeat itself in other cities and towns in Canada. A union bargaining unit was recently certified at another Wal-Mart store, in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec. While Mr. Pelletier said the company would ask the courts to overturn that decision, he said that it was not considering shutting that store.
An application for a bargaining unit has been submitted by a third Quebec Wal-Mart store and the U.F.C.W. has about a dozen organizing campaigns through Canada, particularly in provinces like Quebec with labor laws that improve the chances of union recognition.
The bargaining unit in the Jonquière store was recognized in August and the union and Wal-Mart Canada, based in Mississauga, Ontario, first met in October. There were nine bargaining sessions that brought little apparent satisfaction to either side. Before the union's request for an arbitrator, Wal-Mart asked for the assistance of conciliator, which is similar to a mediator.
In a statement last week, Marie-Josée Lemieux, president of U.F.C.W. Canada Local 503, which represents the Jonquière employees, said the talks had not "resulted in any progress on major issues."
From Wal-Mart's perspective, Mr. Pelletier said the union's demands "would have fundamentally changed the economic model." By Wal-Mart's calculations, the union's position on scheduling would have required adding 30 employees to the store's work force of 190.
Jacques Nantel, who teaches marketing at HEC Montreal, said the store's closing might provoke a reaction against Wal-Mart in Quebec, an area where unions enjoy unusual strength. However, he added that it was unlikely to be long-lasting.

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