Walmart is known for resisting efforts to unionize its American workforce. But in Canada, one of its stores actually voted to join a union — and then six months later, the company shut the store down.
In September of 2004, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) was certified as a representative of employees in a store in Jonquiere, Quebec. In April 2005, just before an arbitrator was about to impose a collective agreement, Walmart closed the store.
On Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Walmart violated Quebec’s labor laws in doing so. It found that the company closed the store during a freeze period codified in the law, which limits a business’s ability to change working conditions from the time that employees file to unionize to when they have a contract, go on strike, or are locked out. The court ruled that Walmart ran afoul of this law without a valid reason for closing the store, which never re-opened.
The company has said it didn’t close the store because workers joined a union. In an email to the AP a Walmart spokesperson said, “We are disappointed by the decision.”
An arbiter will now determine remedies for the 190 fired employees, including possible payment for damages and interest.
Despite the fact that the unionized employees at this store are out of a job, Canadian workers at other Walmart stores have created collective bargaining agreements through the UFCW, according to the union. More than 20 different groups have applied to become members since 2002.
By contrast, no Walmart workers are unionized in the United States. The company even has a Powerpoint presentation it uses to get managers to report any signs of workers trying to organize and that warns employees that they will be hurt by joining in. It has threatened its employees that they could lose benefits if they join a union.
Yet workers have repeatedly gone on strike in locations across the country since 2012 to demand that they be allowed to unionize. They have also demanded they be paid at least $25,000 a year and those who want to work full time be given the chance to do so.
Walmart has been found running afoul of labor law during these strikes in the U.S. The National Labor Relations Board is prosecuting the company for violating workers’ rights for unlawfully firing, disciplining, or threatening workers who went on strike.