The quickest way to shut down a Wal-Mart store is not to organize a consumer boycott. It is much faster to simply threaten the store with an organized workforce. Nothing is more loathsome to Wal-Mart than the idea of unionized workers. On November 27th, the Supreme Court of Canada said that Wal-Mart had the right to shut down their store in Jonquiere, Quebec — a story that Sprawl-Busters first reported on February 9, 2005. The Jonquiere facility was only open for four years before Wal-Mart shut it down shortly after Wal-Mart “associates” voted to unionize. The United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) challenged the closure in court, and this week the Canadian Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the retailer had the right to throw 190 employees out of work. In their decision, the court said it “endorsed the view that no legislation obliges an employer to remain in business… the closure did not constitute an unfair labor practice aimed at hindering the union or the employees from exercising rights under the labor code.” After the decision, Wal-Mart told the media that it did not want to shut down the store. “The situation in Jonquiere was an unfortunate situation,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said. “I think most people know that Wal-Mart tried to keep the store open.” But there are some people who say Wal-Mart shut the store down rather than deal with a unionized workforce. The UFCW said the court’s ruling actually sets the stage for more legal battles over the Jonquiere store. The UFCW said a labor board can now investigate the reasons for store closures. “If we can prove the reasons are anti-union then we can sue for damages,” a UFCW spokesman told the Associated Press. In Jonquiere, the Wal-Mart closed its doors just before an arbitrator was set to impose a collective agreement for the unionized employees. Wal-Mart told the court that it shut down the Jonquiere facility because the store was not making money — not because it was unionized. The retailer said it tried to negotiate a contract with the union, but they could not reach an agreement that would allow “this struggling store to continue.” The UFCW sued, saying that the closure violated the workers’ right to freedom of association. Wal-Mart likes to say that it is not anti-union, just non-union. Outside of America, Wal-Mart has had to accept unions in other countries, like China, Japan, Britain and Brazil. The Jonquiere store at the time was the first store in Canada to have a union, but since then, Wal-Mart has seen several Canadian stores unionized. The court ruling says that Wal-Mart has no legal obligation to explain to its “associates” why they were fired.
The workers at Jonquiere have stated that their store was as profitable as any in Wal-Mart Canada’s portfolio. They point out that Wal-Mart is now operating a unionized store in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, “and it seems like the people are (managing).” One union spokesman notes, “you can’t close (your store) every time there is a union.” But after Jonquiere, Wal-Mart used a similar strategy in Gatineau, Quebec, where the company shut down a Tire and Lube center at their store, as Sprawl-Busters reported on October 17, 2008. Wal-Mart shut down a meat cutting department in a Texas store rather than deal with a collective bargaining unit. Wal-Mart Canada’s official statement on unions is as follows: “Wal-Mart Canada believes in providing associates with a work environment that is based on respect, dignity and a true partnership in the business. We foster an environment that welcomes the identification of challenges or problems, and a mutual resolution of those challenges. As a company, we value our associates’right to communicate any and all concerns they have directly to their supervisor, who must work to a fair and proper resolution quickly. Our culture of open communication is important to meeting our associates’ needs. The key to preserving the climate in which we conduct our business is to always uphold the beliefs upon which Wal-Mart was founded. Wal-Mart Canada supports and respects our associates’ right to exercise freedom of association, including the decision to join or not to join a union. Associates have the legal right to make such choices, free from intimidation, coercion or undue influence from anyone.” The president of UFCW Canada told the media in 2008, “Wal-Mart thinks a cheap oil change is more important than the Canadian constitution.” As with Jonquiere, Wal-Mart said the department closure in Gatineau was merely a financial decision. A Wal-Mart Canada spokesman said the union contract was too pricey. “It could require us to increase consumer prices by more than 30 percent.” The Gatineau and Jonquiere controversies come as attention focuses in the United States on legislation that would make it easier for workers to organize — similar to the Canadian rules. Wal-Mart has aggressively opposed legislation in Congress that would allow labor organizations to unionize workplaces by collecting a majority of card pledges, without secret ballot elections. “Many Wal-Mart customers are union members,” another Wal-Mart official pointed out, “and we respect their work efforts and dedication, but we are opposed to card-check legislation in the United States because of coercion and loss of privacy. The last thing this country needs now … is a bill that would hurt job creation and hurt prices for consumers.” At Wal-Mart, they know the price of everything, and the value of nothing. The Jonquiere court case suggests that the shortcut for shutting down a Wal-Mart is to have a union. That process would be a lot easier if the Employee Free Choice Act is signed into law. Readers are urged to contact Wal-Mart Canada’s Director for Corporate Affairs, Kevin Groh, at 1-905-821-2111 x 8012, with the following message: “Dear Mr. Groh, Wal-Mart Canada says it wants to provide its workers with a ‘rewarding work environment,’ but when the workers ask for their rewards, the company shuts down their department or store. By shutting down jobs at places like Jonquiere or Gatineau, Wal-Mart is intimidating and coercing workers in their exercise of freedom of association. I urge Wal-Mart Canada to reconsider this policy, and honor your statement about respecting the right of workers to decide to joint or not to join a union.”