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Union Certification Sought at Another Canadian Wal-Mart

WINDSOR, Ont. -- The United Food and Commercial Workers Canada has filed an application with the Ontario Labour Relation Board for certification to represent Wal-Mart employees at a store here, the union said yesterday. An employee vote could take place as soon as next week, according to the UFCW Canada.

The Windsor store was the first Wal-Mart location to gain union certification in North America after an organizing drive by the United Steelworkers union in 1996, but failed to agree on a first contract with the retail giant. That union local was eventually disbanded. An important reason for the earlier union's failure was that the United Steelworkers "had limited experience in retail contracts," UFCW Canada spokesman Michael Forman said in an interview with Progressive Grocer. He also attributed the union's ultimate collapse to a change of provincial government in Ontario, which led to labor laws that were more business-friendly, as well as a lack of solid employee support.

The current drive for a union, Forman said, was spearheaded by the Windsor employees themselves, many of whom were there during the first union drive a decade ago. He noted that the current drive was supported by many workers who had actually been against the union the first time around, describing such employees as "fed up" with what he termed Wal-Mart's increasingly "harsh environment" in Canada, as a result of associates' never knowing from week to week what hours they'll be working, creating an atmosphere "in which people are looking over their shoulders."

Officials at Wal-Mart Canada were not immediately available for comment.

According to Forman, the Windsor store currently employs about 220 associates, excluding management and clerical staff. For certification to be granted, Ontario requires at least 40 percent of workers to vote in favor of a union.

Two stores in Quebec are now the only Wal-Marts in North America with unions, but there are currently applications pending with labor boards to certify 12 other Wal-Mart stores in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Quebec, the union noted. Wal-Mart recently decided to close one of the unionized stores, in Jonquiere, for what it said were economic reasons, although the union claimed the planned closure was an attempt to intimidate employees wishing to unionize.

Last week Wal-Mart Canada was directed by the Quebec Labour Relations Commission to stop "harassing and intimidating" three employees at a Quebec City Wal-Mart who want to form a union.
--Bridget Goldschmidt
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