'The workers at the Jonquière store know in their hearts why Wal-Mart shut their store. So do most Canadians. So does Wal-Mart.' - UFCW Canada.
Ottawa (1 Dec. 2009) - In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada has denied an appeal by former workers at a Wal-Mart store in Quebec who argued that their freedom of association rights were violated by the retail giant in 2005.
Almost 200 workers were terminated in Jonquière, Que., as a result of an abrupt store closure by the retail giant – shortly after the employees unionized with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada).
Although the right to collective bargaining is enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, six of the nine Justices set aside the appeal on a technical argument under the Quebec Labour Code.
“With the highest respect for the Supreme Court, we are disappointed by the decision to allow Wal-Mart to squeeze by on a technicality,” says Wayne Hanley, national president of UFCW Canada.
“But the workers at the Jonquière store know in their hearts why Wal-Mart shut their store. So do most Canadians. So does Wal-Mart. We still believe the Jonquière Wal-Mart was closed because workers exercised their constitutional rights."
While the split decision declined the appeal, the court opened a new door for the first time that would force companies like Wal-Mart to provide evidence of their motives when shutting a store or closing a business.
In Sept. 2004, UFCW Canada Local 503 was certified to represent Wal-Mart employees in Jonquière. On Feb. 9, 2005, after negotiations for a first contract stalled, the Quebec minister of labour referred the dispute to arbitration. That same day, Wal-Mart announced plans to close the store. On Apr. 29, 2005, the store was shuttered and 190 employees were terminated.
At an earlier Quebec Labour Commission hearing into the closure, Wal-Mart denied it shut the Jonquière store because of union activity — calling it simply a business decision.
In October 2008, Wal-Mart shut another unionized Quebec store in Gatineau, just days after a first collective agreement was reached through arbitration. Wal-Mart claimed the contract made that store unworkable.
“What Wal-Mart has proven is that as far as it is concerned, its business is more important than the human rights of its workers,” says Hanley.
“Its lawyers can celebrate winning on a technicality, but the rights of everyday working people are at risk when a giant company can hide behind its lawyers while terminating the future of hundreds of workers and their families," he adds.
“That has to end, and the new door the Supreme Court has opened now provides jurisprudence to make that happen. The right to unionize remains a Charter right, and UFCW Canada will continue to help Wal-Mart workers to exercise that right and to empower themselves and improve their lives at work and in the community.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE