Wal-Mart’s labour tactics prompted nationwide outcry when it shut down a Tire and Lube Express in Gatineau– its only unionized outlet in North America– Thursday.
In a press release, National President of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Wayne Hanley accused Wal-Mart of violating a 2007 Supreme Court decision that guaranteed the right of workers to organize for the purposes of collective bargaining.
“[It] is another attack on its workers, on the community, and one more example of its blatant disregard for Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he claimed in the release.
After three years of legal haggling, the garage’s eight employees gained union accreditation in August, when an arbitrator from the Quebec Labour Relations Board ruled in their favour and established a collective agreement.
The binding contract guaranteed the workers a minimum of $11.54 per hour, up from $8.50, with a top rate of $15.25. But once the contract came into effect, the company cut the staff down to five employees, citing the higher costs of running the garage with unionized workers.
Following the closure last week, Wal-Mart spokesperson Andrew Pelletier told The Ottawa Citizen that the contract would have made the garage unprofitable.
Dino Lemay, a regional representative for the Federation des Travailleurs du Quebec (FTQ), disagreed. He pointed out that local labour laws in Montreal and some of the surrounding municipalities force employers to pay garage workers a much higher wage than in Gatineau.
“There are 32 Wal-Marts in Quebec where they have to pay their garage workers at least $16 an hour,” said Lemay. “So for them to say that it was unprofitable is clearly bullshit.”
Lemay added that Wal-Mart simply did not want to set a new precedent by establishing a working relationship with a union and acted against the law closing them down.
“In the Quebec Code, you’re not allowed to close a store because a union comes in, and that’s exactly what they did,” Lemay said.
According to Lemay a worker can file with Commission des relations du travail (CRT) if they feel their rights have been violated. The Minister of Labour also requested report of closure.
Wal-Mart took a similar course of action in the summer of 2005 when it laid off 190 workers in Jonquière after they voted to form a union.
Derek Johnstone, a communications director for UFCW, said that Wal-Mart’s tactics in Quebec have always been focused on union-busting.
“What happened in Gatineau this week was a complete deja vu,” he said. “The contract had been arbitrated by the Quebec Labour Relations Board, and the company completely ignored the right of the workers to organize.”
Wal-Mart employees have also voted to unionize in Hull and St. Hyacinthe in Quebec. Johnstone expects those locations will likely be shut down as well if the Quebec Labour Relations Board continues to ratify the union’s applications.
The FTQ will represent the Jonquière workers in the Supreme Court in December, and Lemay said that the court may also address the Gatineau closure in the same proceedings.
Lemay also accused Wal-Mart of deliberately mismanaging the Jonquiere outlet in order to justify the closure. “They started selling skis in the summer and golf clubs in the middle of winter, so business went down,” he said.
Wal-Mart representatives were unavailable reached for comment.