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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 2, October 2007

Wal-Mart using courts to undermine workers’ rights

Canadians should take note of the situation in Weyburn, SK, because if demonstrates our courts are just another device in Wal-Mart’s union-busting toolbox.

On April 19, 2004, UFCW Canada applied for certification for the Wal-Mart in Weyburn and hearings on the application began.

According to the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board (SLRB), 90% of all cases are decided within 10 days of the last hearing date.

The last hearing date for the Weyburn Wal-Mart application was in December 2005. Yet workers in Weyburn are still waiting to find out if they can bargain collectively. Wal-Mart seems to play by a different set of rules.

Early on in the Weyburn proceedings, Wal-Mart demonstrated its contempt toward the SLRB by claiming that the board did not have the authority to request an internal document, "A Manager’s Toolbox to Remaining Union Free."

When the board naturally insisted on seeing the document, Wal-Mart took the parties involved on a legal goose chase that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court refused to hear the argument. Wal-Mart weas forced to return to the SLRB (this after a six-month delay) now claiming that no such document ever existed in its Wal-Mart Canada offices.

While the above is brazen, the true depth of Wal-Mart’s audacity was revealed by its application to the Supreme Court that The SaskatchewanLabour Relations Act was a violation of its charter rights. In particular, the Arkansas-based retailer contended that the act disregarded its freedom of expression.

The corporation insisted that an employer should have the right to communicate with its workers in an unfettered manner. Note: this company was stuffing notes into its Canadian employees’ pay envelopes including press releases about the store it shut in Jonquiere, Quebec shortly after it unionized.

In July 2006, just when it looked like Weyburn Wal-Mart workers might finally get a definitive answer, Wal-Mart launched another pre-emptive assault on the board-this time alleging that because of bias the board was incapable of rendering a fair judgment.

Once again Wal-Mart dragged the charges up the judicial ladder. The Queen’s Bench dismissed Wal-Mart’s allegations as "a fantasy." Then it went to the Sakatchewan Court of Appeal, and lastly to the Supreme court of Canada, which on April 19 refused to h Wal-Mart’s latest appeal.

Wal-Mart’s exploitation of the courts is not something isolated to Saskatchewan. The Bentonville-based company has engaged in similar tactics in BC, Ontario, and Quebec. In Gatineau, Wal-Mart has been wrangling with the union and the Quebec Labour board for more than two years.

When you are the largest corporation in the world, massive legal bills are a drop in the bucket. Wal-Mart makes a net profit of $3 million per hour, every day of every week of the yar. To put that into context, one hour’s earnings are enough to pay for 12,000 billable hours of legal work a week. Consequently, companies like Wal-Mart don’t have to think twice about tying up the courts for months, all the while wasting judges’ time and taxpayers’ money.

However, there is a much larger cost to Canadians. By abusing the process of the Canadian judicial system, Wal-Mart is undermining the rights of our nation’s workers. Wal-Mart knows what happens when working people have to wait five, or six, or 10 years to find out if they can form a union. They become demoralized. They move on or they, understandably, adopt a cynical view of the process.

Ensuring that workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively plays a fundamental role in creating an equitable society. It is the best check on unfettered capitalism and the surest way to make sure that the gap between the rich and poor does not become a chasm.

As working in the service sector becomes a reality for more and more Canadians, we cannot afford to let the Wal-Marts of the world have their way with our institutions and, by doing so, turn out rights into illusions.

– Wayne Hanley, national president, UFCW Canada, CALM.

Wal-Mart lumped in with North Korea

Human Rights Watch, which usually monitors rights violations in countries like North Korea, reports that Wal-Mart’s efforts to remain union-free has violated US law as well as its employees’ rights.

Violations include eavedropping on workers, using surveillance cameras to spy on them, and firing those who express an interest in union representation.

The April 30 report was Human Rights Watch’s first study of a US company’s treatment of it workers. Wal-Mart has more than 1.3 millions workers at about 4,000 US stores, none of whom belong to a union.

The Guild Reporter, CWA/CALM

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