Walmart escapes Supreme Court decision on technicality
|In a split decision, the Supreme Court of Canada has denied the appeal of former workers at a Walmart store in Quebec who argued their Freedom of Association rights were violated when they and almost 200 workers were terminated when their store was closed shortly after the employees unionized with UFCW Canada Local 503.
Although the right to collective bargaining is enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, six of the nine Justices set aside the appeal on a technical argument under the Quebec Labour Code.
“With the highest respect for the Supreme Court, we are disappointed by the decision to allow Walmart to squeeze by on a technicality,” says Wayne Hanley, the National President of UFCW Canada. “But the workers at the Jonquiere store know in their hearts why Walmart shut their store. So do most Canadians. So does Walmart.”
“We still believe the Jonquiere Walmart was closed because workers exercised their constitutional rights”.
While the split decision declined the appeal, at the same time the court opened a new door for the first time that would force companies like Walmart to provide evidence of their motives when shutting a store or closing a business.
In September 2004, UFCW Canada Local 503 was certified to represent Wal-Mart employees in Jonquière. On February 9, 2005, after negotiations for a first contract stalled, the Quebec Minister of Labour referred the dispute to arbitration. That same day, Wal-Mart announced it had decided to close the store. On April 29, 2005, the store was shuttered and 190 employees were terminated.
At an earlier Quebec Labour Commission hearing into the closure, Wal-Mart denied it shut the Jonquière store because of union activity — saying it was simply a business decision.
In October 2008, Walmart shut another unionized Quebec store in Gatineau, just days after a first collective agreement was reached through arbitration. Walmart claimed the contract also made that store unworkable.
“What Walmart has proven is that as far as it is concerned, its business is more important than the human rights of its workers,” said the UFCW Canada National President.
“Its lawyers can celebrate winning on a technicality, but the rights of everyday working people are at risk when a giant company can hide behind its lawyers while terminating the future of hundreds and workers and their families.”
“That has to end, and the new door the Supreme Court has opened now provides jurisprudence to make that happen. The right to unionize remains a Charter right, and UFCW Canada will continue to help Walmart workers to exercise that right and to empower themselves and improve their lives at work and in the community.”