Wal-Mart threw a corporate tantrum today, announcing abruptly that it was closing down one of its stores in Quebec because it was getting nowhere with union negotiations. Instead of unionizing, Wal-Mart chose dematerializing. Wal-Mart had fought the union from coming to the Jonquiere store, but lost its battle with Canadian labor officials. So instead of dealing with the union, Wal-Mart said it will zip up its store this spring and put 180 of its people out of work. This gesture, which apparently is meant to be a warning to workers elsewhere, sends the tough message that Wal-Mart is willing to walk away from a store, walk away from a community, walk away from its beloved customers, and screw its own workers, just to avoid having organized labor facing it at a bargaining table. Wal-Mart decided simply to pick up its marbles and play elsewhere. The company issued a press release in French which said, “Despite… nine separate days of meetings over a period of more than three months, the company has been unsuccessful in reaching an agreement with the union that would allow the store to operate efficiently and profitably.” The Wal-Mart store became the first Canadian Wal-Mart to become unionized about half a year ago. A second store in Quebec also recently was certified as unionized in Saint-Hyacinthe. About a week ago, the union at Jonquiere had asked for arbitration to help make a contract happen. Wal-Mart has threatened to take legal action against the Quebec Labor Relations Commission, according to the Reuter news service.
Thousands of retailers have learned to negotiate a contract with a union, but Wal-Mart does not seem to be able to pull off the feat. Or perhaps it never wanted to make a contract happen. This Quebec story recalls the story of Wal-Mart meat cutters in Texas who voted to form a union. About a week later, Wal-Mart announced, coincidentally, that it was no longer going to be cutting its meat in the store, but relying on pre-packaged meat. But today’s move to close down a store to avoid unionization shows the degree to which Wal-Mart is afraid that unionization might gain appeal with other Wal-Mart associates once they saw better wages and benefits at a unionized store. Better to just shut it down and throw 180 people out of work than to accept unions. Wal-Mart has had to accept unions in their Chinese stores, but unions are not acceptable in a free market system, where Wal-Mart is free to make up its own working conditions without any organized opposition. For other stories about Wal-Mart’s rabidly anti-union stance, search this Newsflash page by “unions.”