Wal-Mart workers reject union again

Workers in Windsor, Ont., reject UFCW's attempt to unionize store

Workers at a Wal-Mart in Windsor, Ont. have overwhelmingly rejected the latest attempt to unionize one of the retail giant's stores.

In a vote held March 8, store employees in the union's proposed bargaining until voted 167 to 59 against certification.

"This marks the fourth time in less than two years that Wal-Mart Canada associates have voted against being represented by the UFCW," Wal-Mart said in a press release.

Wal-Mart said it is "committed to being a great place to work" and pointed out that it has been named the best retailer to work for in Canada by HR consulting firm Hewitt Associates and Report on Business magazine.

The union said it was "disappointed" but "not surprised" by the outcome of the Windsor vote, and said the vote was proof the retailer's fear tactics worked.

“A month ago Wal-Mart posted a notice on the Windsor lunchroom bulletin board announcing they would be closing a store in (Quebec) that recently unionized. And throughout this week department managers were taking employees one by one out to the parking lot to sign anti-union petitions,” said Michael J. Fraser, national director of UFCW Canada. “Wal-Mart only talks about workplace democracy when the workers are trying to join a union so they can intimidate them. The rest of the time it’s ‘do what you’re told or get out.’ Today democracy lost out to Wal-Mart’s intimidation, but our support for these workers isn’t over yet.”

Allegations of unfair labour practices

Before the Windsor vote this week, the UFCW filed new allegations of unfair labour practice against Wal-Mart at the Ontario Labour Relations Board, claiming a company representative had unlawfully helped and coached two employees in Windsor, Ont., to organize and oppose a union drive at the store in 1996-1997.

Organized by the Steelworkers, that campaign resulted in the first ever union certification of a Wal-Mart store. The labour relations board found the company had committed unfair labour practices and ordered an automatic certification of the store, as provided for by the labour relations law at the time.

Shortly after this certification, the then Conservative government of Premier Mike Harris passed a bill to strip the board of its remedial certification powers. The store was decertified within the year following a series of lawsuits and counter-suits, including allegations the union had conducted a fraudulent ratification vote.

The UFCW complaint, filed earlier this week, alleges that two anti-union associates, Patricia Girard and Marlene Needle, were introduced by a support manager and a store manager to a private investigator named “Dave” who said he would help the employees to get rid of the Steelworkers.

The complaint also states Needle was told by the support manager that she had been selected to be the contact person for employees who were opposed to the union drive, and was told by the store manager that she would soon receive a telephone call about organizing against the certification vote.

Shortly after, she received a phone call from Dave. Through faxes and telephone calls, Dave provided Needle with, “ideas for petitions, copies of petitions, notification of upcoming labour board hearing dates, meetings, notification of union meetings and instructions as to what actions Needle should take in the anti-union campaign,” states the complaint. None of the allegations have been challenged before the tribunal.

On one occasion, Dave asked Needle to look into the cost of chartering a bus to Toronto to take employees to a demonstration before the labour board. When Needle said her co-workers would not be able to afford it, Dave allegedly told her to watch her mailbox. She received about $900 in cash over a number of occasions, all delivered to her door in white envelopes.

Needle, who has signed an affidavit to be submitted to the board, alleges the store manager knew of her anti-union activities. She said the store manager assured her no one would be disciplined for taking time off work to attend the demonstration. And she said when she was subpoenaed to appear before the labour relations board in one of the hearings, the store manager asked her to meet with a Wal-Mart lawyer to prepare for her testimony.

The union’s complaint also alleges that in January, as another certification drive is ramping up in Windsor, an employee has come forward saying she has been contacted by “a man named ‘Dave’ who wanted to help keep any union from organizing the store.”

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