MONTREAL — Wal-Mart Canada says it’s not surprised the highest court in the country has ruled the multinational was entitled to close a unionized store in Quebec in 2005.
But the union which represented the workers considers the Supreme Court of Canada ruling a partial victory.
The court ruled in a 6-3 margin on Friday that Wal-Mart had the right to shut down the store about 250 kilometres north of Quebec City and lay off 190 employees.
A Wal-Mart Canada spokesman says the ruling is consistent with previous decisions from a Quebec labour commission and the Quebec Superior Court and Quebec Court of Appeal.
“The situation in Jonquiere was an unfortunate situation,” Andrew Pelletier, the vice-president of corporate affairs, told The Canadian Press.
“I think most people know that Wal-Mart tried to keep the store open.”
Pelletier added the company tried to reach a collective agreement but couldn’t persuade the union to agree to a contract “to allow this struggling store to continue.”
“And that’s what led to the ultimate closure.”
The union was certified in August 2004 and the store closed in April 2005.
Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti said the ruling would likely not apply in the rest of Canada.
“We have always believed that Wal-Mart closed its store in Jonquiere because its employees had voted to join a union,” Georgetti said.
“But the Supreme Court of Canada has now ruled that under the Quebec labour code, the onus was on the workers to prove that the company closed the store for that reason. In other provinces and territories the onus would have been on the company to prove that was not the case.
“This decision will not deter unions from taking on Wal-Mart in Quebec and other provinces.”
During the Supreme Court hearings earlier this year, the company denied it fired its employees because of union activity.
The retail giant said the employees were let go simply because the store was shutting down.
But workers at the outlet said the two events were related.
Louis Bolduc of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union says the top court’s decision opened a door because a labour board will now be able to investigate the reasons for store closures.
“If we can prove the reasons are anti-union then we can sue for damages,” he said in an interview.