A Quebec arbitrator has imposed a collective agreement on Wal-Mart for the first time in the world's largest retailer's history.
The arbitrator released the decision Friday on the contract for eight workers at a tire-and-lube garage at a Wal-Mart store on Maloney Boulevard in Gatineau, just across the river from Ottawa. The workers are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada.
Guy Chenier, head of the local representing the workers, said the union is delighted with the deal, which gives the workers raises averaging 35 to 40 per cent effective immediately, as well as more vacation.
A spokesman for Wal-Mart said the company is unhappy with the decision and it is "incompatible" with the company's way of doing business. Wal-Mart is the biggest company in the world, according to the Fortune 500 rankings, and recorded nearly $13 billion US in profits in 2007 — yet its front-line employees make less than $20,000 US a year, on average, and the company has been cited for union-busting tactics by government agencies and independent watchdogs.
Friday's precedent-setting contract is the first ever imposed on the Arkansas-based retailer by an outside agency.
In 2005, Wal-Mart closed a store in Jonquière, Que., the same day Quebec announced an arbitrator would impose a collective agreement. Wal-Mart said the decision to close the outlet was unrelated to the government announcement, but the incident has led to the union's speculation that the Gatineau Wal-Mart store will close in the wake of Friday's decision.
Independent mechanic Denis Guillemette, who was shopping at the Gatineau store Thursday, said closing the store would send a bad message.
"That's not the way we do things in Canada," he said. "And that wouldn't be right for the people that work there.… If they want to unionize, obviously there's something not going well with management, but as far as professional ethics go, these people have rights and they should be voiced."
Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear appeals from workers who lost their jobs in the closing of the Jonquière store and who allege that the closing was due to union activities.