Eight employees at the Tire and Lube Express Centre at a Wal-Mart store in Gatineau, Quebec, have a first contract — a first for them and the first in North America for Wal-Mart. It took three years of negotiations and litigation between the retail giant and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Local 486, but a three-year agreement at the Maloney Blvd. location was reached after arbitration.
With the help of an actuarial firm, arbitrator Alain Corriveau set the salaries in relation to what other similar firms in the area pay their employees. He put a 30¢ wage difference between the auto technicians and the service writers. First year wages came into effect on August 13, 2008 and will increase by 2.5 per cent in each of the next two years. The starting wage for an automobile technician on August 13 became $11.54 (up from the minimum wage of $8.50) rising in four steps of 2,000 hours each to $15.17 after 6,000 hours. Similarly, the wages for the service writers start at $11.84 and rise, by the completion of 6,000 hours, to $15.47.
Arbitrator Corriveau upheld the rationale behind having so small a group as a distinct bargaining unit: unlike the other employees of Wal-Mart, the garage workers must have a licence, require specific training, wear distinct uniform, and work a schedule mandated by the type of work the garage does. Also, there is little job mobility among this particular group of workers.
Local 486 president Guy Chenier said the new contract represented about 98 per cent of what the workers asked for and that closing the garage would be much harder with a collective agreement in place.
Company spokesperson Andrew Pelletier was quoted as saying that the company was disappointed and that the agreement would have a significant impact on Wal-Mart’s business model. He added the company is reviewing the decision and its implications. A newer Wal-Mart store is just a few kilometres down the road from the Maloney Blvd. location.
Other attempts to unionize Wal-Mart in Canada have failed. Wal-Mart closed a store in Jonquiere, Quebec days before an arbitrator was to impose a settlement; that decision will be argued before the Supreme Court of Canada. Unions seeking to represent workers in lube and tire centres in Wal-Mart stores in Cranbrook and Surrey, British Columbia were not allowed to carve out the workers into a distinct unit after the B.C. Labour Board found that under the province’s labour laws, the entire store would have to be certified.