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
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
"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
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.