By  on February 14, 2005

BOSTON — Wal-Mart’s long-running battle against unionization has a new frontline — Canada.

After sparring for years in the U.S., the Union of Food and Commercial Workers and Wal-Mart are facing off over a pair of union-certified stores in Quebec, one of the most pro-labor provinces in Canada. The world’s largest retailer said last week that it would close its store in Jonquiere, Quebec, because union demands made the store economically unfeasible to operate. The two sides had been meeting with a mediator since October.

 “The message Wal-Mart is trying to send is they are not going to accept unions anywhere, anytime, anyplace,” said Marc Bendick, a labor economist with Washington, D.C., firm Bendick Egan. “The most interesting entry wedge is going to be outside the U.S. As Wal-Mart is going heavily into Europe, they are encountering a very heavily unionized environment. I think that’s going to be the leading edge on news about whether Wal-Mart can maintain its no-union position indefinitely.”

The UFCW’s Canadian chapter on Friday announced it would file a complaint with the Quebec Labor Relations Commission. “Wal-Mart never had any intention of reaching a collective agreement,” Michael J. Fraser, national director of UFCW Canada, said during a news conference in Toronto. “Wal-Mart made its decision to close the store months before we sat down at the table.’’

A spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada said the “economically fragile” Jonquiere store could not have remained profitable under the union’s terms “When we layered on the union’s demands it wasn’t viable,” said Wal-Mart Canada spokesman Kevin Groh. “We won’t close a store for union reasons, but we will close for business reasons.‘’

Wal-Mart’s business model is predicated on keeping overhead and labor costs low.

In Jonquiere, the union was seeking different protocols on scheduling and a new definition of full-time employment. The changes would have required 30 additional workers on the selling floor, given mandatory hours to others, and “seriously altered the basic business model of the store,” Groh said.

Michael Forman, spokesman with UFCW Canada called Wal-Mart’s scheduling “ad-hoc” and said many workers do not find out until their shift is ending if they are scheduled to work the next day.The UFCW represents 230,000 members in Canada . It has never organized a Wal-Mart store.

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