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2008-10-17
Gatineau, Que. Canadian Workers Find Quick Way To Shut Down Wal-Mart

Workers in a Wal-Mart store in Quebec have found a short cut for closing down Wal-Mart operations. While citizens groups can spend years trying to stop a new store, a handful of workers can shut one down in a matter of months. When workers form a union, Wal-Mart responds by either shutting down the entire store, or closing off the unionized department. This week, Wal-Mart did it again, by letting the air out of a Tire and Lube center at their store in Gatineau, Quebec. The giant retailer told the Associated Press that five workers and one manager at the center were offered jobs at comparable Wal-Mart facilities or elsewhere in the store. The rest of the store will remain open, and the other 245 workers there will not be affected, the company explained. Wal-Mart elected to close the department after an arbitrator in Quebec approved a union contract for the facility last August. This closure replicates the actions taken by the company in 2005, when it closed an entire store in Jonquiere -- also in Quebec. Wal-Mart did the same thing to meatcutters at a store in Texas. Once the meatcutters organized, Wal-Mart announced that it would no longer cut meat in its stores. The Jonquiere closure is being challenged by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, and is now pending before the Canadian Supreme Court. Wayne Hanley, the president of UFCW Canada, told the AP, "Wal-Mart thinks a cheap oil change is more important than the Canadian constitution." But Wal-Mart said the department closure was merely a financial decision. A Wal-Mart Canada spokesman said the union contract was too pricey for the Arkansas retailer. "It could require us to increase consumer prices by more than 30 percent," the company spokesman said. Wal-Mart insists that it is not anti-union, but pro-associate. "We think the best-case scenario is when the (employee) can deal directly with the company through an open door and ... open communication," the Wal-Mart spokesman said. "The Gatineau workers have merely exercised their human rights under Canadian Law, something that is clearly unacceptable to Wal-Mart," responded Wal-Mart Watch director David Nasser. The Gatineau controversy comes as attention focuses in the United States on legislation that would make it easier for workers to organize -- similar to the Canadian rules. Wal-Mart has aggressively opposed legislation in Congress that would allow labor organizations to unionize workplaces by collecting a majority of card pledges, without secret ballot elections. "Many Wal-Mart customers are union members," another company official pointed out, "and we respect their work efforts and dedication, but we are opposed to card-check legislation in the United States because of coercion and loss of privacy. The last thing this country needs now ... is a bill that would hurt job creation and hurt prices for consumers." One Gatineau consumer expressed her feelings about Wal-Mart's closure. "They told me to come back today because my tires were coming in," the Wal-Mart shopper said. "I think I'll go to Canadian Tire because I can count on them." Another frustrated customer told the media, "I can understand that companies have to consider costs. But it's not fair what they are doing. Life is expensive and people need a decent wage."

What you can do: Wal-Mart posted a notice on the locked doors at the empty three-bay Tire and Lube Center at the Gatineau store, directing customers to two other stores in Gatineau. The sign said nothing about the union fight that led to the closure. The "unaffordable" union contract would have raised pay from a minimum of $8.50 to a new minimum of $11.54. One angry Canadian told the Ottawa Citizen, "(Wal-Mart) should go back to their own country if they don't want to obey Quebec law." Another Wal-Mart customer added, "How's a young guy going to pay for his apartment and his car on $8 an hour? Wal-Mart is going to put these people on welfare." In Quebec City, Labour Minister David Whissell has asked for a detailed report on the garage closing, a spokeswoman said. The UFCW is also in the middle of arbitration over a contract at a third Wal-Mart store in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec. So far, Wal-Mart has not threatened to shut down that store. Wal-Mart says it has closed 8 Tire and Lube Centers at its Canadian stores over the last two years, because the centers weren't making enough money. A Wal-Mart spokesman said these closings "had nothing to do with union activity." According to Wayne Hanley, head of the UFCW, Wal-Mart is sending the clear message that "if you join a union, they're going to close your shop." Wal-Mart Canada's official statement on unions is as follows: "Wal-Mart Canada believes in providing associates with a work environment that is based on respect, dignity and a true partnership in the business. We foster an environment that welcomes the identification of challenges or problems, and a mutual resolution of those challenges. As a company, we value our associates'right to communicate any and all concerns they have directly to their supervisor, who must work to a fair and proper resolution quickly. Our culture of open communication is important to meeting our associates' needs. The key to preserving the climate in which we conduct our business is to always uphold the beliefs upon which Wal-Mart was founded. Wal-Mart Canada supports and respects our associates' right to exercise freedom of association, including the decision to join or not to join a union. Associates have the legal right to make such choices, free from intimidation, coercion or undue influence from anyone." The footnote they should add would read: "And if you do choose to form a union, we will exercise our freedom to shut down your store." Wal-Mart Canada currently operates a network of 309 stores across Canada and employs more than 77,000 Canadians. Readers are urged to contact Wal-Mart Canada's Director for Corporate Affairs, Kevin Groh, at 1-905-821-2111 x 8012, with the following message: "Dear Mr. Groh, Wal-Mart Canada says it wants to provide its workers with a 'rewarding work environment,' but when the workers ask for their rewards, the company shuts down their department or store. By shutting down jobs at places like Jonquiere or Gatineau, Wal-Mart is intimidating and coercing workers in their exercise of freedom of association. I urge Wal-Mart Canada to reconsider this policy, and honor your statement about respecting the right of workers to decide to joint or no to join a union."












 
 
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