Quebec Wal-Mart could be unionized

Province's labour board grants certification for store in Jonquière, UFCW hopes start collective bargaining soon

The battle lines between organized labour and Wal-Mart shifted a little bit on Monday.

That’s because Quebec’s labour board granted employees at a Wal-Mart store in Jonquière a union certification. The move doesn’t mean the store is unionized yet — and Wal-Mart could still have the decision overturned on appeal — but the United Food and Commercial Workers Union said it hopes to put some collective bargaining proposals together in the fall.

Earlier this year workers at the Jonquière store rejected the unionization bid by a narrow margin, losing by just eight votes. But the UFCW persevered and got a majority of employees to sign union cards, clearing the way for the labour board’s decision to grant certification.

“I’m very happy and proud of those workers,” Marie-Josée Lemieux told the Globe and Mail. “They’re trailblazers. There was a lot of pressure on their shoulders.”

A hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 20 to rule on the job descriptions of those who can be covered by a collective agreement. According to a report by The Canadian Press, the local will include all salaried workers except the store manager, assistant managers, department managers, office workers, auto shop employees, the night manager, customer service manager, HR manager, security officers and those automatically excluded by the law.

Andrew Pelletier, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada, said it hadn’t decided whether or not it would appeal the labour board’s ruling. Under Quebec labour law, a new round of voting wasn’t necessary. The union was required to wait three months before applying to the board again, but only had to sign enough cards among 170 employees it was targeting for unionization.

Michael J. Fraser, UFCW Canada's national director, called the labour board's ruling a "great victory" for Wal-Mart workers everywhere.

"Wal-Mart is on the record stating they support workplace democracy," said Fraser. "The majority of workers in Jonquière have spoken, so we expect Wal-Mart to listen and get down to negotiating a contract without delay."

Fraser also pointed to comments by Wal-Mart that it would not close the store because of a union.

"So Wal-Mart workers should stop believing the rumours that their stores will close if they exercise their right to form a union," he said. "What's happened in Quebec can happen at any Wal-Mart store in North America. Jonquière is only the first of more to come."

Wal-Mart's spokesman did say it would not close the store because of a union, but he said any store could be closed if it became economically unviable.

The UFCW is also attempting to unionize stores in Weyburn and North Battleford, Sask., Terrace, B.C. and Thompson, Man.

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