July 1, 2014
By Neal Tepel – Laborpress Special Report
Montreal, Canada – Following a legal saga that lasted nine years, the nation's highest court in Canada has confirmed that Walmart acted illegally when it laid off all 190 UFCW employees at its Jonquière, Quebec store in February 2005. Walmart announced that it was closing the store just as the Quebec Minister of Labour was preparing to appoint an arbitrator to impose a first collective agreement at the store.
The Canada Supreme Court ruling is a historic and positive milestone in protecting workers' rights, and will likely compel employers to justify their actions if they decide to close a store. Indeed, some corporations will now think twice before throwing their employees out of work.
"The Supreme Court ruling sends a message that no one is above the law," says Paul Meinema, the National President of UFCW Canada. "Year after year, Walmart uses dirty tricks to stop its associates from exercising their democratic right to join a union, and that's exactly what happened with the employees at the Jonquière store. By clarifying that employers must respect the law and the rights of their employees when making business decisions, this ruling serves as a major positive landmark," Meinema adds.
On December 6, 2013, the former Walmart employees in Jonquière appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada for the second time in a final attempt to win their case. They based their argument on Article 59 of Quebec's Labour Code, which states that working conditions must not be altered in any way, shape, or form during a unionization process.
"When a company closes down its business (which it can indeed do), the counter is not reset. For a certain amount of time, the company is obliged to offer an explanation for their decision," said Mr. Claude Leblanc, the lawyer representing former Walmart associates in Jonquière. "Furthermore, as far as employees are concerned, the result is the same whether they are laid off temporarily or dismissed, let go, or in a situation where their workplace is closed down. In any case, they lose their jobs and their working conditions are altered," Mr. Claude Leblanc added.
All 190 former Walmart associates, who are members of UFCW Canada Local 503, always hoped that they would eventually obtain justice. "I commend the courage of these men and women, who stood up for their rights for many years," says UFCW Canada Local 503 President Louise Lefebvre. "Their tenacity has been a major source of inspiration to our union, and they have certainly made a difference in advancing labour rights in this country," Lefebvre adds.