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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Inc. suffered a defeat on Thursday when Canada's Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge of the company's 2005 decision to close a Quebec store that had been the first in North America to obtain union certification.
Former employees charged they had unfairly lost their jobs because of their union activities. Wal-Mart's Canadian subsidiary insisted that they had lost their jobs for the "good and sufficient reason" of the closure of the store.
The Supreme Court gave no hint of which way it was leaning on the issue, but its decision to hear the case keeps the workers' hopes alive.
No Wal-Mart outlets in the United States or Canada have collective agreements in place, though several in Canada have received union certification since the closure of the store in question in this case, which was in Jonquiere, Quebec.
The Supreme Court's eventual ruling will likely affect union activity and Wal-Mart's response in other stores.
Wal-Mart Canada said it saw hopeful signs in the legal history of the case as it wound its way through Quebec's courts.
"Every previous court decision on this matter -- decisions from the Quebec Superior Court as well as the Quebec Court of Appeal -- have found in favor of Wal-Mart Canada against the union and have found that closure of the Jonquiere store was lawful," spokesman Andrew Pelletier said.
United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, the union involved, said it would not comment until Friday.
Pelletier said Wal-Mart did not expect the case to be heard until next year. The court often takes months to write its decision as well.
He insisted that Wal-Mart had bargained in good faith over a collective agreement at Jonquiere but said the store had been losing money and the union nonetheless demanded the hiring of 30 additional workers.
Editing by Peter Galloway