A first for N. America: A union contract at Wal-Mart

Canadian workers at the Wal-Mart store in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec became the only Wal-Mart employees in North America to be covered by a union contract when an arbitrator April 8 ruled in their favor more than four years after they voted to certify the United Food and Commercial Workers as their union.

People in the labor movement are keeping a close eye on the situation since the retail giant has a history of continuing to fight unionization efforts even long after workers win a battle for union representation. The company has closed entire stores in order to avoid having to deal with unions.

Andrew Pelletier, vice president of corporate affairs for Wal-Mart Canada said he couldn’t speculate on any store’s economic future, when asked about whether the Saint-Hyacinthe store would close. “We’ll have to see,” Pelletier said, “Our objective has always been to run a viable store in Saint-Hyacinthe.”

Pro-labor support groups are cheering the ruling in favor of the workers.

“We’re glad to see that these employees finally have a union contract,” said Meghan Scott, director of WakeUpWalmart.com. “They voted to be represented by a union, and that choice should be respected. After nearly four years of legal stalling by Wal-Mart, the employees at this store finally have a voice on the job.”

The support group is warning, however, that workers can expect Wal-Mart to resort to its usual anti-union tactics. “While this is a victory for the workers,” the group said, “it looks like Wal-Mart will use the same old dirty tricks to avoid treating the workers fairly.

“Wal-Mart has a history of simply shutting down stores when its workers win union representation.” The retail giant already shut down an auto shop in Gatineau and an entire store in Jonquiere when workers at those locations voted for union representation.

Union supporters believe that Pelletier’s comments leave open the door to a similar shut-down scenario in Saint-Hyacinthe.

Wake Up Walmart said, “Closing the store down would mean employees there would not just lose a rightful voice in the workplace, it would mean they’d lose their jobs. Walmart cannot be allowed to fire hundreds of employees because they voted for union representation.

“We hope Wal-Mart keeps the Saint-Hyacinthe store open and honors the contract with its workers. It is the right thing to do, and Wal-Mart has a responsibility to their employees. Firing hundreds of workers rather than allowing them a voice on the job would show a gross disregard for that responsibility.”