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First union for Wal-Mart is accredited

Workers at a Quebec Wal-Mart may be the first to become unionized after that province's labor board accredited their efforts to organize. The store says it will fight their effort.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Wal-Mart store in Quebec may become the retail giant’s first unionized outlet after the Quebec Labor Relations Board accredited a union there to represent the workers.

The Quebec Federation of Labor announced the accreditation Monday. The store in Saguenay has about 180 employees.

“The union represents the large majority of the store’s employees,” said Marie-Josee Lemieux, president of the union local of the United Food and Commercial Workers. “We hope that Wal-Mart will accept this decision and negotiate a labor contract with the union.”

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, has no unionized stores, although a handful of meat cutters at a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Texas had voted to join the United Food And Commercial Workers in 2000.

The retailer appealed the decision, and last June, an administrative law judge ruled in favor of Wal-Mart, saying that the retailer had no obligation to negotiate an agreement with the union because the meat cutter function was being eliminated as the chain was moving toward prepackaged meat, according to Christi Gallagher, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart’s U.S. division.

Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., appears ready to battle the Canadian effort.

“We are reviewing the decision,” said Andrew Pelletier, spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada. “There was no vote held in the store. This appeared to be an automatic certification, and employees were not given the opportunity to vote on the issue on unionization in a democratically held election, which is of enormous concern.”

The Quebec labor board will hold a meeting Aug. 20 to rule on the job descriptions of those who can be covered by negotiations.

Wal-Mart operates 231 discount department stores and five Sam’s Clubs and employs more than 62,000 people across Canada. Wal-Mart entered Canada 10 years ago with the purchase of 122 Woolco stores.

Wal-Mart has more than 1,300 stores in nine countries employing 300,000 people. Besides Canada, Wal-Mart operates in Argentina, Brazil, China, Germany, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Great Britain.

Several efforts to form unions in other provinces have so far been unsuccessful.

Wal-Mart has cited the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in its legal challenge of the Saskatchewan Labor Relations Board’s authority. The move halted hearings which began in May regarding the automatic union certification of a Wal-Mart store in Weyburn, Saskatchewan.