Wal-Mart closes union shop in Quebec

Wage increases would lead to higher prices for tire and lube customers: Retailer

Two months after an arbitrator imposed a collective agreement on a Wal-Mart Tire and Lube Express (TLE) in Quebec, Wal-Mart Canada has closed the six-person operation.

“For the past three years, Wal-Mart Canada has participated in the negotiation and arbitration process in good faith, with the hope of arriving at a reasonable agreement that would have allowed the TLE in Gatineau to remain open. We are obviously disappointed with the outcome,” said Wal-Mart Canada spokesperson Andrew Pelletier.

The TLE is a separate operation within a 250-employee Wal-Mart store in Gatineau, Que., and the six TLE workers will be offered jobs at other TLEs in Quebec or in the Gatineau store, said Pelletier.

The closing of the TLE was the result of the “unrealistic” contract, said Pelletier. Imposed after three years of failed negotiations and litigation between Wal-Mart and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada, the contract raised wages for TLE workers by 33 per cent.

The increased wages didn’t fit Wal-Mart’s business model and would have forced the retailer to raise prices by 30 per cent, said Pelletier.

“A dramatic increase in prices goes against Wal-Mart’s commitment to offer customers the lowest possible prices,” he said.

Wal-Mart has closed nine other TLEs over the past two years.

In August, Wayne Hanley, UFCW Canada national president, called on Wal-Mart to live up to the terms of the contract, which he said were fair and in line with similar workplaces in Quebec.

The closure of the Gatineau TLE is an example of Wal-Mart’s blatant disregard for Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, said Hanley.

“For Wal-Mart to say its employees are free to unionize but then declare that a contract produced through mediation just doesn’t work for their business model means, as far as Wal-Mart is concerned, the rights of its American shareholders are more important than the human rights of its workers in Canada,” he said.

Wal-Mart has a history of blocking unionization in its Canadian outlets. In 2005, it closed a store in Jonquiere, Que., six months after the 200 workers unionized.

“We’ve already seen this bad movie in Jonquiere, we certainly won’t tolerate a remake in Gatineau,” said Michel Arsenault, president of the Montreal-based Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ).

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