WAL-MART CANADA TO FIGHT LABOR BOARD OVER UNION
Byline: Paul French
TORONTO — Wal-Mart Canada is gearing up for a court battle against the union certification of one of its two stores in Windsor, Ontario.
Wal-Mart will challenge a decision by the Ontario Labor Relations Board to certify the United Steelworkers of America as bargaining agent at the Windsor store, even though a majority of the unit’s 209 employees voted against it.
The retailer expects to file its arguments in about a month. It could take another six months before a hearing date, according to a Wal-Mart spokesman.
The Windsor store is the first Wal-Mart to unionize in the chain’s 35-year history. The Bentonville, Ark.-based organization operates 136 stores in Canada, and a total of 2,600 units there and in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, China and Indonesia.
“We feel we have a strong case and will challenge the decision on two grounds: That it did not reflect the wishes of our people and that the company acted fairly throughout the process,” the Wal-Mart spokesman said.
The track record of legal challenges to labor board decisions in Canada is not a strong one. Legal experts say the courts generally are reluctant to interfere with the OLRB and do so only when there is new evidence. They further noted it is possible that the courts would send the Wal-Mart appeal back to the labor board.
Wal-Mart has claimed in its notice of application that the OLRB “committed serious errors” in its decision. These errors, Wal-Mart stated, include “forced association,” which the retailer will challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. The retailer will point out that the Windsor store was unionized despite an employee vote against certification so that their association with the Steelworkers has been forced.
In its decision on Feb. 12, the labor board found that the employees’ vote of 151 to 43 against union certification at the Windsor unit was meaningless, as Wal-Mart intimidated workers by refusing to answer questions about whether the store would remain open if a union were introduced. The OLRB further ruled that a second vote would not be a true test of employees’ wishes because of the implied threats to job security.
An appeal to the labor board, Wal-Mart’s alternative to going the judicial route, is even less likely to succeed given the board’s track record, legal experts advised. Unless an error of fact or new information is revealed, they said the OLRB is unlikely to reverse its ruling.
Since the ruling, workers at the store have remained divided over their loyalties. On April 3, an anti-union group decided to launch a court appeal of its own.
Meanwhile, the Windsor unit is operating as a union shop, with in-store meetings being held to discuss the United Steelworkers of America’s bargaining position, as per the OLRB ruling, a union spokeswoman said. Talks among store employees and the union about a labor contract began last week and are scheduled to continue through May, she added.
Wal-Mart burst onto the Canadian scene in 1994, establishing a strong market presence by acquiring 122 Woolco units, one of which became the unionized Wal-Mart store of Windsor. The chain also has a second Windsor unit.
In just three years, Wal-Mart has captured 44 percent of Canada’s discount market. It plans to open nine new discount stores in Canada this year.