Wal-Mart likes to say its “pro-associate, not anti-union.” But whenever its associates vote to become union members, Wal-Mart cuts them off at the knees. In March of 2005, a union filed applications to certify workers at a Wal-mart Canada store in Gatineau, Quebec. The United Food and Commercial Workers Canada filed two certification applications with the Quebec Labor Relations Commission to represent workers in the main section of the Wal-Mart store in Gatineau, as well as for store’s Tire and Lube Express shop, or “garage” as it is called in Quebec. In 2005, when the UFCW was certified as a union in another Wal-Mart store in Jonquiere, Quebec, Wal-Mart Canada shut the entire store down. Wal-Mart said the store was not making money. “We salute the courage and the determination of these workers who, despite Wal-Mart’s intimidation tactics, are asserting their right to unionize,” said Guy Chenier, president of UFCW Canada Local 486. Another contentious campaign was carried out in Windsor, Ontario, where Wal-Mart workers voted against forming a union. The UFCW and Wal-Mart management filed unfair labor practice charges in the Windsor case, each accusing the other side of intimidation. The Montreal Gazette reports this week that UFCW leaders predict that Wal-Mart will shut down its Tire and Lube Express when the workers there are given their first collective agreement. The arbitrator’s decision will affect not only the 10 garage workers at Gatineau, but the Wal-Mart workers in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, who are also waiting for their first collective agreement, and workers all across Canada. Ch??nier told the Gazette that Wal-Mart has already hinted it will close the garage. TLE workers in Gatineau, which lies across the river from Ottawa, have been unionized for three years, and are now waiting for their first collective agreement following binding arbitration that ended in June. This would be the first collective bargaining agreement. “I have the impression that they will want to close the garage,” said Ch??nier. “But if they do this, we will help the workers find other places right away.” A Wal-Mart executive has already said the company might close the garage, depending on what’s in the agreement, said a UFCW spokesman. “We are eager to see how Wal-Mart behaves. We hope they will act like good corporate citizens.” For its part, Wal-Mart refused to comment on what it will do when the collective bargaining agreement is released by an arbitrator. “The arbitrator is now working on the file, so we cannot speculate on the outcome,” a corporate spokesman told The Gazette. “We respect the process and we want to wait for the decision.” Wal-Mart also says it respects its workers. It shows that respect by paying workers at the Wal-Mart garage in Gatineau an average of $9.25 an hour.
Wal-Mart Canada was founded in 1994 when the American retailer bought up the Woolco store chain. Wal-Mart Canada claims that it serves more than one million Canadians each day at 301 stores and six Sam’s Club locations. It has roughly 75,000 Canadian employees. The company likes to boast that a magazine called Report on Business lists Wal-Mart Canada as one of the “50 Best Companies to Work for in Canada.” While Wal-Mart workers in Canada wait eagerly for their agreement, Wal-Mart in China has obediently accepted a state union – as is required by law. Unionization was the entry price for Wal-Mart China. To open up the Chinese market, Wal-Mart had to accept the union. But in America and Canada, Wal-Mart has bitterly fought unionization at every turn — training its managers on how to spot union organizers, hiring a team of union-busters to fly into troubled areas, organizing surveillance of its workers, and intimidating its employees. Union efforts in Canada will have a big impact on the effort to unionize workers in America. The recent media controversy over Wal-Mart “instructing” its workers how to vote in the American Presidential election was all about fear of unionization. Wal-Mart has opposed all efforts to enact federal legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act, that would make it easier for workers to form unions. “If this (collective agreement) happens in Quebec, this will be a big shot in the arm for Wal-Mart workers everywhere,” said a spokesperson for UFCW in British Columbia.” Readers are urged to call Wal-Mart Canada’s Home Office in Mississauga, Ontario at 905-821-2111 with the following message to leave for CEO David Cheesewright: “Mr. Cheeswright, I hope you will accept the collective bargaining agreements at the Gatineau store, and do likewise in Saint-Hyacinthe, and Brossard. I trust we will not see a repeat of the fiasco in Jonquiere. Just pretend that you are in China, and accepting organized labor is just part of doing business. You say that ‘Wal-Mart Canada is a strong business getting stronger,’ and that ‘demand for our stores is high and we are responding.’ Now its time for Wal-Mart Canada to respond to the fact that the urge of workers to organize for better wages and benefits is also getting stronger, and demand for a collective agreement is high. Wal-Mart says ‘respect for the individual’ is the key to its employee relations. The company should respect the individual’s right to organize for improved working conditions at all your Canadian stores.”