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Wal-Mart Punishes Workers for Standing Up

Wal-Mart's recent announcement that it will close down its store in Jonquière, Quebec, is much more about its hostile labor relations strategy than its bottom line.  The company says the store will close because it hasn't turned a profit. But, a closer look at Wal-Mart's practice of opening and closing locations suggests its anti-union stance might be a more accurate reason for its decision.

wal-mart-by-the-numbers_ski_021505_125159.gif Wal-Mart operates over 3,600 stores,1 and opens as many as 60 new stores every month in the United States.2  It is rare for a Wal-Mart to close its doors. In fact, during the past two fiscal years Wal-Mart has closed only one of its stores without opening a bigger one in its place.3

But when faced with the prospect of having its Jonquière store operate under a union contract, Wal-Mart decided to close down the third North American store in the chain's history where workers organized a union. 

The Jonquière store workers organized their union through a commonly-used process known as majority verification, in which a majority signed cards authorizing the union to bargain with Wal-Mart.  When workers asked the Canadian government to act as an arbitrator in contract negotiations in early February, Wal-Mart responded by announcing it would close the store. 

Wal-Mart asserts the store wasn't profitable, a claim the corporation first made just weeks after the store's union was recognized in September 2004.4  However, there have been no previous reports of North American Wal-Mart stores shutting down for lack of profitability since FY 2003.5

Wal-Mart's History of Unionbusting
Nearly 200 workers will lose their jobs simply because Wal-Mart has chosen to shut its doors in Jonquière rather than negotiate fair and decent terms of employment.6  Wal-Mart's announcement sends a clear message to its employees worldwide: unionize and you will lose your job.  Wal-Mart is developing a habit of closing down unionized sections of its workforce.  When 11 meat cutters at a Texas Wal-Mart voted to form a union in 2000, the company suddenly eliminated meat-cutting positions in all of its stores nationwide, an illegal but effective move that stopped union organizing dead in its tracks.7

Why Wal-Mart Matters
As the largest company in the world, Wal-Mart’s labor relations strategies are emulated not just among its competitors, but also among its vendors who are cutting costs on the backs of their workers to meet the retail giant’s demands. In a handful of towns and cities, concerned community members, small and socially-responsible businesses, and public interest groups are demanding that Wal-Mart meet certain standards as a good employer and corporate neighbor before entering their communities.  Wal-Mart’s hostile labor relations strategy is a choice, not a fiscal necessity. Workers and communities across the country will continue to remind Wal-Mart that “everyday low” wages and benefits are no bargain at all.

>> Read a Letter Signed by Academics and Researchers Urging Wal-Mart to Honor Workers' Rights in Response to Wal-Mart's Store Closing Announcement.


» Additional Reading

For Labor, a Wal-Mart Closing in Canada is a Call to Arms
The New York Times - March 10, 2005

At a Small Shop in Colorado, Wal-Mart Beats a Union Once More
The New York Times - February 26, 2005

Wal-Mart told to end intimidation in Canada
The New York Times - February 26, 2005

Wal-Mart Chief Defends Closing Unionized Store
Washington Post - February 11, 2005

Wal-Mart to shut store in Canada where workers unionized
Associated Press - February 10, 2005

A Healthy Choice: A movement builds to take on Wal-Mart
In These Times - January 25, 2005

Will Labor Take the Wal-Mart Challenge?
The Nation - June 10, 2004

Citations

1. http://www.walmartfacts.com/newsdesk/wal-mart-fact-sheets.aspx#a125
2. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A15832-2005Feb10.html
3. http://www.walmartfacts.com/docs/738_NewsDesk04AnnualReport_1497483218.pdf
4. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A15832-2005Feb10.html
5.  http://www.walmartfacts.com/docs/738_NewsDesk04AnnualReport_1497483218.pdf
6. http://biz.yahoo.com/rb/050210/retail_walmart_quebec_1.html
7. http://www.nlrb.gov/nlrb/shared_files/decisions/alj/JD(ATL)-37-03.pdf

Sidebar Sources

1. http://www.walmartfacts.com/newsdesk/wal-mart-fact-sheets.aspx#a125  
2.
http://www.pbs.org/itvs/storewars/chat_transcript.html
3. http://www.walmartfacts.com/docs/738_NewsDesk04AnnualReport_1497483218.pdf
4. http://www.kktv.com/home/headlines/1209507.html
5. http://www.theledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050210/NEWS/502100395/1001/BUSINESS
6. http://biz.yahoo.com/rb/050210/retail_walmart_quebec_1.html
7. http://www.walmartfacts.com/doyouknow/default.aspx#a2