Union dispute with closed Wal-Mart goes to the Supreme Court

Supreme Court of Canada hears case of Quebec Wal-Mart that closed after workers tried to unionize

A group of former Wal-Mart employees in Quebec whose attempts to unionize were thwarted by the closing of the store are pleading their case before the Supreme Court of Canada.

After employees at a Wal-Mart in Jonquière, Que., were dissatisfied with the working conditions, they decided to try to unionize. In September 2004, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 503 was certified to represent them in collective bargaining. However, the union wasn’t able reach an agreement with Wal-Mart on the terms on an initial collective agreement and the Quebec minister of labour ordered the matter to go to arbitration on Feb. 9, 2005, so a collective agreement could be established.

However, the same day they were told of the referral to arbitration, Wal-Mart told employees the store would be closing because it was losing money. On Apr. 29, 2005, the Jonquière Wal-Mart closed, putting almost 200 people out of work. Several employees filed a complaint with the Quebec Labour Commission, saying they were terminated because of their union activities.

The commission found Wal-Mart had a “good and sufficient reason” to close the store and rejected the complaints. The workers didn’t accept the decision and five of them, on behalf of 80 complainants, took the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada, which agreed to hear the case.

“This isn’t about whether Wal-Mart has the right to close a store,” UFCW Canada National President Wayne Hanley said in a statement. “It’s about Wal-Mart shutting down the charter rights of 200 Canadian workers.”

The Supreme Court began hearing arguments on Jan. 21 and a decision is expected by September.

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