Canadian Court Calls Foul On Walmart Closing

Jessica Corbett

Canada’s Supreme Court ruled Friday that Walmart violated Quebec labor law when it closed a Jonquière, Saguenay store in April 2005. The company is now facing fines as a result of the controversial closure, which came just six months after that location’s employees voted in favor of joining the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Walmart announced the closure in February 2005, claiming financial concerns the company says would have arisen from the unionization were behind the closure. Walmart said it could not reach an agreement with the union that would “permit it to operate the store in an efficient and profitable matter."Though the court has already sent an arbitrator to determine the compensation Walmart will be required to award its former employees, the ruling’s impact on unionization efforts in Canada may be limited. The New York Times reports: “[The ruling] took issue with the timing of the closing, in 2005, not the company’s right to shut operations. …Friday’s ruling found that Walmart had erred in closing the store during a freeze period, which starts when workers file to unionize and ends when they get a contract, go on strike or are locked out. Quebec law limits employers’ ability to change working conditions during the freeze.” More than 20 groups of Walmart employees in Canada have applied to join UFCW, and some have been successful, but unionization remains a contentious issue among Walmart employees across North America. In the U.S., workers have yet to successfully unionize a single Walmart store, despite protests and strikes.Last November, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board investigated Walmart in response to the flurry of allegations regarding labor rights violations. The NLRB Off found that Walmart stores in 13 states—including Illinois—had “unlawfully threatened, disciplined, and/or terminated employees for having engaged in legally protected strikes and protests.”

Jessica Corbett, a former In These Times intern, is a Maine-based staff writer at Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter at @corbett_jessica.
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