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Quebec Wal-Mart Closure Illegal
October 21, 2009

A Quebec arbitrator has ruled that Wal-Mart’s decision to close its Jonquière store and lay off employees was contrary to a provision of the Quebec Labour Code prohibiting changes to conditions of employment following an application for union certification.

The case began in August, 2004, when the United Food and Commercial Workers was certified at the Jonquière Wal-Mart. When attempts to negotiate a first collective agreement proved unsuccessful, the union applied to Quebec’s Minister of Labour in February of 2005 to have an arbitrator appointed.

On the very day the Minister agreed to appoint an arbitrator, Wal-Mart announced that it would close the store, effective May 6, 2005, and that all employees would be laid off. The union filed a complaint alleging a violation of section 59 of the Quebec Labour Code which prohibits employers from changing conditions of employment during a specified period of time following an application for certification, unless such changes are part of an employer’s normal business activities.

On September 18, 2009, arbitrator Ménard issued his decision finding that Wal-Mart’s actions violated section 59. The company failed to provide any explanation beyond “business reasons” to justify its decision. As arbitrator concluded that Wal-Mart failed to prove that it made its decision in the normal course of its operations and in the absence of any inequitable, abusive or discriminatory considerations. Declaring the layoffs illegal, Ménard retained jurisdiction to impose remedies if the parties are unable to reach an agreement.

Wal-Mart has announced that it will apply for judicial review of the arbitrator’s decision.

Travailleurs et travailleuses unis de l’alimentation et du commerce, section locale 503 v. La Compagnie Wal-Mart du Canada