Northern Exposure

More Bad News for Wal-Mart in Canada

by Dominique Launay

Five weeks ago, we told you about an unfair labor practice complaint against Wal-Mart in Saskatchewan, arising out of its closure of a store in Jonquiere, Quebec. Well, it seems that Saskatchewan isn’t the only province in which Wal-Mart is being dealt blows. The Quebec Labor Relations Board  has also recently ruled against Wal-Mart.

In 2005, Wal-Mart received two applications for certification from the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 486. One was for the main store in Gatineau, Quebec. The other was for the auto center next door. These didn’t end up being normal applications for certification and ended up with considerable debate before the Quebec Labor Relations Board.

In April 2005 Wal-Mart and Local 486 made an agreement. Wal-Mart agreed to Local 486 representing the employees at the auto center. In return, Local 486 agreed to hold a secret-ballot vote among the employees of the main Gatineau store. Wal-Mart and Local 486 also agreed on the description of the bargaining unit for the main store.

Since Wal-Mart didn’t oppose Local 486’s application for certification at the auto center, the Quebec Labor Relations Board certified Local 486 as the bargaining agent for the auto center. Given the parties’ agreement, it also ordered that a secret-ballot vote be held among the employees of the main store.

But things didn’t progress as planned for Wal-Mart. A few weeks before the vote, Local 486 learned that its support among the employees was only between 35 percent and 50 percent. Local 486 was concerned that it might lose the vote, which it had to win with a majority.

So Local 486 came up with another strategy. It withdrew its application for certification at the main store. The next day, another local, Local 502, filed its certification application for the main store.

The Quebec Labor Relations Board accepted Local 486’s application to withdraw and canceled the secret-ballot vote. Obviously, Wal-Mart was upset, as it had agreed to the certification of the auto center based on the secret-ballot vote proceeding at the main store. So Wal-Mart objected. It took issue with Local 486’s withdrawal, requested that the Quebec Labor Relations Board review its ruling which certified the auto center and argued that the April 2005 agreement between it and Local 486 was invalid. Wal-Mart argued that because Local 486 broke its promise to hold a vote, Wal-Mart should now be entitled to oppose the certification application concerning the auto center.

But the Quebec Labor Relations Board did not agree. It determined that the April 2005 agreement was valid. It confirmed the certification of the auto center and said there was nothing improper about Local 486 withdrawing its application at the main store. The reason for the Board’s decision was that Wal-Mart could not have agreed to not oppose the certification application at the auto center in exchange for a secret-ballot vote at the main store because under the Quebec Labor Code, a vote was mandatory.

So what happens next? The Quebec Labor Relations Board has not yet dealt with the certification application at the main store filed by Local 502. We will keep you posted of any developments arising from that application. In the meantime, there are certain to be other developments concerning Wal-Mart across the country, which we will also keep you posted about.