Wal-Mart is the largest private sector employer in the world with 1.4 million workers.
The Wal-Mart owners move came after Quebec labor minister Michel Despres told the company and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the union representing the workers, that he had agreed to a union demand for binding arbitration for a contract. In Quebec, either party may seek binding arbitration from the government for their first contract if the union and bosses fail to reach a negotiated agreement.
A company spokesperson blamed the workers for the closure of the store. Andrew Pelletier, a Wal-Mart Canada director, told La Presse, They are the ones who slammed the door shut by asking for the intervention of an arbitrator. We estimate that in order to respond to union demands just concerning hours of work, we would have to hire 30 new employees. In addition, the union wanted to make basic changes to the status of employees by redefining who is considered full-time and part-time.
The workers at the Jonquière store won union recognition last August after the UFCW turned in union cards signed by a majority of workers. In the province of Quebec, workers may win union representation if a majority sign union cards.
Our first motivation for the struggle is to fight injustice, and I would do it again anytime, Sylvie Lavoie, who was involved in the fight for the union, told the Militant last October. There was an injustice going on because there was no respect for senioritynewly hired workers earned more than the others.
Workers at the Jonquière store said they make around $8 (US$6.48) an hour. Full-timers work 28 hours a week while part-timers average 12 hours. They also complained about arbitrary treatment by managers who ignore seniority, and other anti-union abuses.
Staying union-free is a full-time commitment, states the Wal-Mart handbook for managers, according to the Nation magazine. The commitment to stay union-free must exist at all levels of managementfrom the Chairperson of the Board down to the front-line manager. The time involved is…365 days per year.
At a February 11 press conference held in Jonquière, Henri Massé, president of the Quebec Federation of Labour, demanded that the government go ahead with naming an arbitrator to settle the first contract at the store. The UFCW announced it would file charges against Wal-Mart for bargaining in bad faith.
The unions also said they will push ahead with the effort to unionize other Wal-Mart stores. In all, the UFCW says it has filed for union recognition at 12 stores across Canada.
At the Wal-Mart in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, 60 kilometers (38 miles) east of Montreal, the union was certified in January. The company is contesting this before the Quebec Superior Court. Workers at a store in Brossard, a Montreal suburb, filed cards last July but have yet to receive a response from the labor board. There the company is challenging an order from the government agency, which instructed the bosses to stop interfering with the unionization of the employees.
And in Saskatchewan, a province in western Canada, the company is challenging an article in the labor code that forbids employers from talking about the union to workers who are in the process of union certification. In Saskatchewan, Broadcast News reports, workers are trying to organize Wal-Mart stores in North Battleford and Weyburn.
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