Walmart is well known for actively discouraging union activity, often tip-toeing carefully on the edge of legality to do so. Employees of one store in Saguenay, Quebec successfully voted to certify the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) in 2004 to represent them in collective bargaining with the company.
Walmart responded by declaring that the store was “not profitable” and closing it when the union requested arbitration in 2005, after being unable to reach an agreement with the company on a contract.
The employees took the matter to the courts alleging that Walmart had closed the store solely because they did not wish to bargain with the union. They pointed to the fact that the store, open since 2001, had suddenly become “unprofitable” a mere seven months after the union was certified. That court ruled that the company was within its rights to close the store.
Following that loss the workers filed a second case, this time alleging that the company had closed the store in violation of Article 59 of the Quebec Labor Code. Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in a 5-2 decision on Friday that the company had closed the store in violation of that law which forbids altering working conditions in any way during negotiations with a union.
Of course Walmart cannot be forced to re-open the store but the company can be required to compensate the employees for whose rights were violated when the store was closed.
The Toronto Sun reported on Friday that UFCW spokesman Paul Meinema said that the ruling sends a message that “no one is above the law.”
Meinema said in statement,
“Year after year, Walmart uses dirty tricks to stop its associates from exercising their democratic right to join a union, and that’s exactly what happened with the employees at the [Saguenay] store.”
Meinema is correct, this is not the first time that Walmart has fought off unionization with underhanded tactics. In 2000 meat-cutters at a Texas Walmart voted to unionize only to be told that the company had decided to no longer employ meat-cutters in favor of pre-packaged meats.
A spokesman for Walmart, director of corporate affairs Alex Robertson disagrees with the court and insisted that the company had acted legally in the closure of the store.
Robertson wrote in an email:
“We are disappointed because this appeal followed a unanimous decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal to reject the union’s challenge that we believe, was a challenge of a legally justified decision.”
The only Walmart locations in North America that have successfully unionized are in other Canadian locations including Gatineau and Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec and those unions were formed only after the company lost another court case in 2010 in which the court ruled that even Walmart employees had the right to be represented by a union if they wanted it.
h/t: Huffington Post.
Photo: I Am a Revolutionary.