August 15, 2008 / 4:29 PM / 9 years ago

Arbitrator imposes contract at Canadian Wal-Mart

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Employees at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. outlet in Canada won an arbitrator-imposed contract on Friday, becoming the giant retailer’s only location in North America with a collective agreement in place.

<p>A sign marks Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas June 1, 2007. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi</p>

The contract, imposed after binding arbitration ended in June, affects only eight employees at Wal-Mart’s tire and lube garage in Gatineau, Quebec, across the river from Ottawa.

“There has been a decision. There is a first collective agreement for Gatineau, for the garage,” Guy Chenier, president of the Gatineau local of the United Food and Commercial Workers of Canada, told Reuters.

The Tire and Lube Express unit in Gatineau is adjacent to a regular Wal-Mart store that has a non-union staff of over 200.

An official at the Canadian subsidiary of Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, would not comment on speculation that the company would shut down the unit, saying only that it aimed to maintain an “efficient” operation.

“We need to take time to carefully review and consider the decision that’s been rendered by the arbitrator, and its implications for our business. We’ll be examining the matter very carefully,” said spokesman Andrew Pelletier.

“Our priority is to be able to run an efficient operation in the Gatineau TLE to ensure we can deliver on our commitment to provide customers with the everyday low prices they’ve come to expect,” he said.

Labor groups have long criticized Wal-Mart for keeping unions out of its U.S. stores. In 2005 it closed a store in Jonquiere, Quebec, that had been the first in North America to obtain union certification.

The Supreme Court of Canada agreed on August 7 to hear a challenge from former employees at the Jonquiere store, who charge they unfairly lost their jobs because of their union activism.

Wal-Mart Canada insisted they had lost their jobs for the “good and sufficient reason” of the closure of the store.

The Gatineau store was one of several in Canada that had union certification but, until now, no collective agreement in place.

Pelletier said the unionization process in Gatineau was controversial because it singled out a small number of workers at a location with a larger overall staff. He said this union strategy had been disallowed in the province of British Columbia.

For a brief period in the 1990s, a Windsor, Ontario, Wal-Mart store had a collective agreement but that store is no longer unionized.

Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Rob Wilson

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