This breaking news story should be placed in the circular file. Watch what you say around Wal-Mart Canada. Over the years, the giant retailer, in exercising its own brand of censorship, has forced recording artists to change lyrics and ‘sanitize’ album covers, removed certain magazines from its racks, and generally cultivated its own corporate sense of what the public should or shouldn’t see. Now the retailer has developed a list of words and images that it doesn’t want its workers to read on a union website. On June 19, 2009, the Wal-Mart Canada Corporation filed an injunction in Montreal to force the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada from using words like “Wal-Mart” alone or with other words “in a color scheme of blue, white and gold” which is similar to that adopted by Wal-Mart Canada. The injunction seeks to bar the UFCW from using such words or symbols on its website, business cards, flyers or advertising. The company has included in its injunction “an oval, circular or semi-circular design that adopts the essential characteristics and color scheme of Wal-Mart’s Rebranded Indicia.” Wal-Mart Canada also wants the union to “immediately take down the website” www.walmartworkerscanada.ca, and to stop using the expression “Get Respect. Live Better,” which the retailer says infringes on its trademarked phrase, “Save Money. Live Better.” The union would be banned from using Wal-Mart’s new “spark design” that includes “spokes or figures” like the company’s logo. Also on the banned list would be the words “Wal-Mart Workers Canada,” and the use of any images or photos of people wearing “the blue vest and name tag badge similar to those worn on the job by Wal-Mart employees in Canada.” Wal-Mart charges that the UFCW’s website and its images constitute a violation of Canada’s Trade Marks Act, and that the UFCW actions are “deprecating the value of the goodwill” of the company’s trademarks. Wal-Mart says the UFCW website falsely suggests a “sponsorship, connection, association or affiliation” between the UFCW and Wal-Mart. In response to Wal-Mart’s court action, the UFCW Canada has festooned its website with yellow police tape reading “Under the threat of Censorship,” and has produced a spoof TV news broadcast about Wal-Mart’s “seizure of the circle” that envisions a world without circles. In the news segment, motorists travel home on square wheels, and pizza shops cut off the edges of their product to produce a square pizza. “What a waste,” says one pizza shop owner, holding up the deleted circular edge of his pizza pie. But behind the humor, the union is taking the Wal-Mart Canada injunction seriously, and so is the media. The Wall Street Journal and other business media reported on the story, quoting Wal-Mart Canada spokesman Andrew Pelletier as saying the UFCW statements and images on their website are “misleading.” This is apparently the second time that Wal-Mart Canada has sued UFCW members in Canada over trademark infringement. The first case was 4 years ago, and involved a group of former UFCW members who formed a group called “Members for Democracy.” Wayne Hanley, UFCW Canada national president, said Wal-Mart’s injunction was an assault on freedom of speech and its ability to communicate with Wal-Mart workers. The UFCW website has been on the internet since 2003. On its website, the UFCW tells readers, “The campaign to empower Wal-Mart workers needs your help. Wal-Mart is seeking a court injunction against certain aspects of www.walmartworkerscanada.ca, a website dedicated to providing Wal-Mart ‘associates’ with the tools and knowledge they need to exercise their rights as workers in Canada. Making sure the internet is a place where workers can freely learn about their rights and communicate with one another is a fundamental fight for us all. Tell Wal-Mart NO! to the court injunction and YES! to free speech by visiting www.walmartworkerscanada.ca/freespeech and sending a quick email to Wal-Mart executives.”
In a UFCW press release dated July 29, 2009, the union says that Wal-Mart Canada “has reached a new low” by filing the court injunction. “This injunction request is an over the top assault on freedom of speech and on our ability to effectively communicate with Wal-Mart workers,” said national President Wayne Hanley. “It’s a kneejerk response by Wal-Mart to the idea of its employees trying to understand their options as workers, and trying to share experiences with other ‘associates’.” Hanley described Wal-Mart’s reaction to their website as “just another outrageous example of how the largest retailer in the history of the world will use its bottomless legal budget to manipulate the collective bargaining process and do just about anything to discourage its ‘associates’ from joining the union.” The UFCW on its website says that the union “is confident that Wal-Mart’s case is unfounded and we are maintaining the look, feel and messaging of www.walmartworkerscanada.ca.” In a petition addressed to Wal-Mart, the union says, “Wal-Mart has the right to not want its ‘associates’ organized by a union. However, Wal-Mart does not have the right to curtail the effectiveness of a purely informational website. If Wal-Mart treats its ‘associates’ so well, why is it so afraid of them knowing their rights? Why is Wal-Mart so determined to prevent its associates from sharing their stories? I ask that you stop rolling back the effectiveness of this campaign, which is based on the ideal of freedom of speech. Let your workers learn about their rights. Let your workers speak for themselves.” The Union is urging the public to defend its “digital rights” by emailing Wal-Mart to drop their lawsuit. The union has set up a Facebook page to SAVE the CIRCLE. For more details, go to: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=100648979085&ref=search.