The ongoing efforts by various groups to unionize employees at Wal-Mart stores in Canada have received substantial media publicity. As part of the ongoing claim, the Wal-Mart store in Jonquiere, Quebec was closed not long after the location was certified. In a decision that expands the potential scope of employer liability for alleged unfair labour practices across the country, the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board recently ruled that the closure by Wal-Mart Canada of the Jonquiere store can be reviewed under Saskatchewan law for potential intimidation of employees where the affected union is organizing in that province. In other words, a decision taken in Quebec may be reviewed for its potential impact as a form of intimidation on conduct by employees in that province.
Wal-Mart closed the Jonquiere store on April 7, 2005 after the Quebec Labour Relations Board certified the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (“UFCW”) to represent employees at the store. The position of Wal-Mart, which was subsequently reviewed and validated, was that the closing was due to lack of business.
In its recent Saskatchewan Board application, the UFCW argued that the Wal-Mart threats of the Jonquiere closure and subsequent closure after it was unionized were intended to not only intimidate employees in Jonquiere, but also employees at any of its stores across Canada who were attempting to organize. This included employees in Saskatchewan, some of whom were subject to a pending application for certification at the time the Jonquiere store was closed.
Wal-Mart sought to have the union’s application dismissed for a variety of reasons, including that it did not relate to events that had occurred in Saskatchewan.
In dismissing the preliminary objection of Wal-Mart, the Saskatchewan Board held the fact that the allegations related to matters occurring outside the geographic confines of Saskatchewan did not automatically mean that there could not have been a violation of applicable provincial legislation. Instead, the union had put forward an arguable case which would need to be determined on its merits.
Wal-Mart has indicated that it intends to challenge this decision in the courts. If this line of reasoning prevails, the fact that a particular national employer develops a “record” of unfair labour practice findings in one province might mean that unions may attempt to bootstrap such a finding across the country. As we move to more challenging economic times and the traditional support of unions is eroding, this argument may see increased prominence.