MONTREAL — Wal-Mart Canada has closed its only unionized store in Canada, in Jonquière, Quebec, ahead of schedule.
Instead of waiting for the scheduled May 6 closing date, Wal-Mart shut the 130,000-square-foot store on Saturday, citing a shortage of merchandise. The store, about 160 miles northeast of Quebec City, was losing money, according to the company.
“Anyone who saw the store in the last few days should not have been surprised,” said a company spokesman. “It was virtually a shell and there comes a time when it doesn’t make a lot of sense to operate a department store without merchandise.”
Wal-Mart announced in February that the Jonquière store would close. The United Food & Commercial Workers Union Canada, based in Toronto, gained certification last year, but was unable to negotiate a contract. The union has been certified as the bargaining agent for employees of a second Quebec unit, in Saint-Hyacinthe, about 50 miles east of Montreal, and is leading a drive to represent workers at more than a dozen of Wal-Mart’s 235 stores in Canada.
The world’s biggest retailer had said it was shutting the store because of lackluster sales and rising union demands.
“The company stopped shipping merchandise about eight weeks ago because they knew they were closing down and didn’t want to have to pay people to clear out the stock,’’ a union spokesman said. “They operate another store in Chicoutimi about 20 miles away [from Jonquière] that they’re directing people to.”
The spokesman continued: “They accelerated the process of emptying the store because they’re aware there’s going to be a day of action across the country at various Wal-Marts.”
Henri Masse, head of the Quebec Federation of Labor, one of the largest unions in the province, called the early closing a “deceitful attack” and an attempt by Wal-Mart to avoid media attention as unions plan a series of “actions” Friday and Saturday at Wal-Marts across Canada.
The campaign is being supported by the National Union of Public & General Employees, which signed a formal organizing protocol with the food workers earlier this year dealing specifically with Wal-Mart.
“Wal-Mart’s decision to sneak out of town early was no surprise,” said Michael Fraser, national director of UFCW Canada. “Every bully is a coward and Wal-Mart was afraid if they waited [to close on Friday] the media and outraged local citizens would be there for the closing. Once again.”
The Wal-Mart spokesman defended the company’s actions, noting that 176 employees received 12 weeks notice, would be paid until Friday and would receive two weeks severance pay for every year of service. That means most of the workers would get about eight weeks of severance plus career counseling. He said union contract demands would have required Wal-Mart to hire an additional 30 full-time employees.