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Wal-Mart set back in Canada

Published Oct 4, 2005 10:17 PM

The Quebec Labor Relations Board has ruled that Wal-Mart did indeed close its store in Jonquière, Quebec, in order to break the union there, a local of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Meanwhile, in British Columbia, the Labor Board has just certified another UFCW local at a Wal-Mart Tire & Lube Express in Cranford. BC labor officials are considering applications for UFCW certification at two other Wal-Mart Tire & Lube Express outlets. Wal-Mart is challenging those applications.

Three stores in Quebec are bargaining with Wal-Mart for an initial contract. Under Quebec law, if a first contract is not reached, the Labor Relations Board has the right in some circumstances to impose one on both parties.

The UFCW has 20 active organizing campaigns against the giant U.S. retailer throughout Canada. These widely reported successes are going to be a big boost for all of them, even though Wal-Mart earlier managed to beat back two union-certification votes—in Quebec and Ontario.

UFCW Canada's national director, Michael Fraser, said in a statement that the union will continue to organize Wal-Mart employees. "Wal-Mart says that, given a chance to vote, their employees always reject the union," said Fraser. "Those days are over."

UFCW Local 503, which represents the workers at Jonquière, sees the Labor Relations Board's decision as a step forward. The president of the Quebec Council of UFCW, Yvon Bellemare, said: "Wal-Mart clearly closed this store because the workers succeeded in unionizing. The Labor Relations Board's decision once again exposes the multinational's anti-union attitude. The momentum is picking up. Wal-Mart employees now realize that if they want a union in their store, Wal-Mart may attempt to but can't stop them."

Some of the workers at Jonquière have filed a class action suit demanding that Wal-Mart pay their salary for the time they've been unemployed, plus $10,000 each for the stress the closing caused and $10,000 exemplary damages for its "illicit" act. Others want to see Wal-Mart forced to reopen the store.

Wal-Mart, like many other big U.S.-based retailers, wants to expand in Canada because markets in the United States are saturated and expansion is more difficult. The North American Free Trade Agreement eased many restrictions on the movement of capital. But companies like Wal-Mart are finding that the anti-worker political atmosphere in the United States doesn't carry across the border. The working class movement is stronger there and faces less restrictions on organizing.