Wal-Mart to close unionized Quebec store

Wal-Mart will close a store in Jonquiere, Que., that won union certification last year

Wal-Mart Canada is closing its store in Jonquiere, Que., the company announced Wednesday – six months after the workers won union certification.

Wal-Mart said it was unable to reach a tentative agreement with the union that would "permit it to operate the store in an efficient and profitable matter."

In a news release, Wal-Mart said it had told the United Food and Commercial Workers union during negotiations for a first contract that the store's financial situation was "precarious."

The company said the union's demands would have required more hiring and added hours.

But the union disputed Wal-Mart's contention that the closing was for financial reasons. UFCW Canada spokesman Michael Forman told CBC Business News the closing was "a gross infraction of labour practice" and "an assault on all Canadians" and said the union would continue the fight.

But he acknowledged that it would make other Wal-Mart employees think twice before voting for union accreditation.

Canadian Press quoted one employee at the store, which is 250 kilometres north of Quebec City, as saying many workers burst into tears when managers told them about the closing.

The store, which has about 190 employees, will close in May.

Last week, the union asked the Quebec minister of labour for binding arbitration to reach a contract in Jonquiere. The union said no progress had been made.

Another Quebec Wal-Mart, in Saint-Hyacinthe, won union certification in January.

Wal-Mart, which the UFCW calls "staunchly anti-union," is facing certification applications at about a dozen other locations in Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia – including applications representing workers at seven Wal-Mart Tire & Lube Express departments in B.C.

A Wal-Mart store in Windsor, Ontario won union certification in 1997 after an Ontario labour board ruled that the company was guilty of unfair labour practices during the organizating drive. But three years later, the certification was lost when the local collapsed.

Wal-Mart has 235 stores in Canada, employing more than 60,000 people.