deschenes-yannick20060714

Wal-Mart spokesman Yannick Deschenes said workers could have left the store after the bomb threat if they had asked. ((CBC))

The occupational health and safetycommission in Quebec is investigating complaints by Wal-Mart employees that they were forced to help police search for suspicious packages in their store after it received a bomb threat.

The commission says it should have its findings by next week, and it may make recommendations on how these situations should be dealt with in the future.

Three bomb threats in one week at the Wal-Mart store in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu left employees feeling edgy. But it's how their employer allegedly dealt with the threats that has them more concerned.

After the first bomb threat, workers said, a Wal-Mart manager forced them to help police search to see if there was a bomb, while shoppers were told to leave the building.

One employee, Mailie Fournier, chose to leave the store after watching her panicked co-workers comply with the request.

"I have a colleague who had a nervous breakdown, another who has heart problems… the beads of sweat were hitting the floor," Mailie said, speaking French.

Fournier said she no longer feels safe working at Wal-Mart. She resigned last Friday.

Risk low, police said

Local police officers acknowledge asking employees for help, because they felt the threat of finding a bomb was low and the employees knew their way around the store.

Policesaid evacuation of the store was voluntary.

Police Sgt. Luc Tougas said it was the decision of the store manager not to ask the employees to leave.

Employees say they didn't think they could refuse to help with the search. But Wal-Mart management said it did not force the workers to stay and search for a possible bomb.

"Wal-Mart's policy is that we collaborate and trust police," said Wal-Mart spokesman Yannick Deschenes. "They are the experts in terms of bombs …

"The employees were already in the store, and we've asked them to follow the police instruction," Deschenes told CBC News.

"The police instruction was to look into the store if there was a suspicious package, and that's what they did. But never were they forced to find the suspicious package.

"If one of the associates would have said, 'Listen, I'm not comfortable, can I leave the store,' we would have said yes," Deschenes said.

Every employee needs to know she or he can refuse dangerous work without fear of reprisal, said Louis Bolduc of the United Food and Commercial Workers, a union that has been trying to organize Wal-Mart employees.

"That's not what happened last week."

"As long as the people know the potential danger, and they decide by themselves it's not too serious, and they help search, that's fine— as long as these people are informed.