Second Canadian Wal-Mart Becomes Unionized

SAINT-HYACINTHE, Quebec -- A second Wal-Mart store has received union certification from the Quebec Labour Relations Commission, after a majority of workers signed cards designating the United Food and Commercial Workers Union their official agent for collective bargaining.

The two locations are the only Wal-Mart stores in North America to have union representation. An attempt to unionize among butchers at a Jacksonville, Texas, store in 2000 failed after the retailer started carrying prepackaged meat and reassigned the employees to other departments. A third Quebec store, in the Montreal suburb of Brossard, has applied to the labor board for certification, according to published reports.

The Jan. 17 decision accredited UFCW Local 501 to represent the approximately 200 employees at a Wal-Mart in Saint-Hyacinthe, the union said.

The union and Wal-Mart Canada, a unit of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., are already in the midst of negotiating a contract for another store, in Jonquiere, Quebec, which received certification in August. Wal-Mart has said that the Jonquiere store, which has about 160 workers, hasn't been profitable since its opening a few years ago.

Both stores were automatically certified after the submission of the signed union cards.

According to Wal-Mart Canada spokesman Andrew Pelletier, the company is considering a legal challenge to the decision affecting the Saint-Hyacinthe location. Pelletier referred to the action of automatically certifying that store as "undemocratic," explaining that associates weren't given the chance to vote. "This concerns us because we believe the only way to ensure associates can express their views without coercion or intimidation is by allowing a secret-ballot vote to take place," he told Dow Jones.

As an example of possible abuse, Pelletier brought up the case of workers at two Saskatchewan stores who have sought legal counsel and brought formal charges against the UFCW because they claim that they were pressured into signing union cards.

The UFCW plans to present a contract proposal to Wal-Mart in the next three weeks.

At the Jonquiere store an arbitrator was appointed at Wal-Mart's request in December, and meeting dates have been set up through March 15.

According to Canadian union officials, the movement is gaining momentum as Wal-Mart workers discover that if they want union representation, the retailer can't prevent it.

The union noted that there are 12 more applications for it to represent Wal-Mart Canada locations pending for stores in Quebec, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia.

Wal-Mart, which has been in Canada since 1994, has about 230 stores there, among them 44 in Quebec, and over 60,000 associates.
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