Canadian opposition to Wal-Mart is heating up. This spring, Wal-Mart closed a store in Jonquiére, Quebec, where employees won union certification—only the second to unionize among North America's 3,413 Wal-Mart branches and the first among Canada's 264 branches. The closure brought down the wrath of a group of Quebec nuns, caused hundreds to protest, and drew the concern of the Catholic Church. A second Quebec Wal-Mart store unionized in Saint-Hyacinthe in January. It remains open.
On May 6, the day the Jonquiére Wal-Mart was slated to close its doors for good, hundreds of Canadians formed a human mosaic that turned the famous Wal-Mart smile into a sneer to protest the firing of almost 200 employees. The store cited financial problems as the cause of the closure. According to a poll by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada, 80 percent of Canadians believe this to be a pretense for removing the union less than a year after its accreditation.
The Wal-Mart website reads, “Because we believe in maintaining an environment of open communication, we do not believe there is a need for third-party representation.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union grocery workers in the U.S. receive an average of $10.65 per hour, $2.38 more than Wal-Mart employees.
The U.S. has only had one successful Wal-Mart unionization attempt. In 2000, 10 meatcutters from Jacksonville, Texas, voted seven to three to start a union. Two weeks later, Wal-Mart centralized meat packaging nationwide, eliminating their jobs.
Union certification is easier in Canada, where, under Quebec law, the Labor Board automatically grants union certification if 50 percent of employees sign cards favoring unionization of their workplace.
In the U.S., union certification can take place only after a lengthy election process in which there are few penalties for employer intimidation of workers. According to a study by Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University, half the U.S. companies that face union campaigns threaten to close their plants and one-fourth fire at least one union supporter to derail the campaigns.
—Valerie DoyleFor information about worker and community opposition to Wal-Mart practices, go to www.wakeupwalmart.com