But when it just recently occurred in 2004 at a store in Jonquiere, British Columbia, the reader must appreciate that a real battle had been won. The original efforts of that particular store for example had the local labor Commission reject certification by a margin of 74 to 65. When the union announced that it won the coveted certification at Quebec, it was quite a blow to the retailer. The Quebec Labour Relations Commission issued the order certifying the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) as the bargaining agent of employees in Wal-Mart's store in Jonquiere. As noted, the reason a victory of this magnitude is huge is because of the policies and tactics used by Wal-Mart. The retailer works diligently to prevent its workforce from engaging in any collective action and they have consistently shown that they are willing to cross the line to guarantee their position.
Wal-Mart Canada's First Union
In January of 1994, the discount department store operator Wal-Mart headed north from its base in the United States in an effort to expand their network into the Canadian retail market. The new arm of the retailer was labeled as Wal-Mart Canada and fell under the management of Wal-Mart International. They quickly acquired one hundred twenty two of a possible one hundred forty four stores from another retailer, Woolco. At the time, Wal-Mart was already operating over twenty-five hundred stores globally but not a single one was unionized.
To bring Wal-Mart's position on the union issue home, the stores that Wal-Mart purchased or acquired were not unionized but nine of the remaining stores that were already unionized were passed over. Wal-Mart simply did not purchase any of the nine. "On April 14, 1996, the United Steelworkers began an organizing drive at the Wal-Mart store in Windsor, Ontario. When Andy Johnston, the store manager, became aware that employees were being approached to sign union cards, he immediately notified the "home office" in Toronto. It was decided that Tino Borean, the District Manager, would go to Windsor the next day." (Labour Law News, 1997) All employees of the Windsor Wal-Mart were ordered to be in to work early enough to attend a mandatory morning meeting in regard to the topic of unions.
In a related story, the Canadian labor laws were in transition at around the same time. "The statute that provides the collective bargaining framework for some 700,000 workers in the federally regulated private sector is slated for change. On November 4, 1996, the federal government introduced Bill C-66, an Act to Amend the Canada Labour Code. The amendments were developed following the release in February of a report entitled "Seeking a Balance," issued by a task force made up of Chair Andrew Sims and members Paula Knopf and Rodrigue Blouin." (Harnden, 2004)
Bill C-66 had a purpose of realigning the non-representational Canada Labour Relations Board with a new Canada Industrial Relations Board. The industrial board was composed of a neutral Chair and Vice-Chairs, as well as an equal number of members who were to represent both employers and employees. The new process was intended to streamline administrative tasks and processes.
Back at Wal-Mart, over the course of the next few days after that original meeting, the management team that was present in the store seemed to grow as higher ranking executives began appearing and the number of meetings increased proportionately. Meetings were repeatedly held by management for employees which included one-on-one meetings, team meetings and even after hour calls to the homes of the employees. The message was overly clear -- Wal-Mart did not want a union in their new northern backyard.
The obvious questions that arose at the time were related to Wal-Mart's employee policies and management's refusal to answer employees' questions regarding job security while the store's employees were in the process of considering the union drive as well as the efforts of the management team to do whatever was necessary to stop the organizational efforts of the United Steel Workers. Wal-Mart's managers were literally circulating around the stores to privately discuss the union's efforts with employees and even sat in meetings that were clearly efforts for the union to gather support. Of course, existing Canadian Labor Laws did not permit such blatant efforts to keep an employee from attending or conversing about a unionization meeting while with management present.
The Ontario Labour Relations Board concurred when the matter was brought to their attention via an application presented by the United Steel Workers. The Board used the decision from Lorraine Products Canada Limited,  OLRB Rep. Nov. 734. "The Board's ruling is in keeping with a long line of cases in which the Board has affirmed that it will not tolerate subtle threats to job security made by employers to thwart a union drive. As in the K-Mart decision, the practice of flooding a workplace with outside managers during a union drive was recognized as a subtle, but effective, form of intimidation." (Labour Law News, 1997)
Wal-Mart employee policies prior to Windsor were geared to promote a positive employee culture which functioned by incorporating employees efforts in a family or team approach. "Employees, called "associates," are treated as partners, and are encouraged to make suggestions or ask questions." (Labour Law News, 1997) Windsor was the first of many demonstrations of Wal-Mart's obvious deviation from its own polices when the need arose.
In other words, the company's culture of managerial and employee openness was their un-doing. "The company's practice of encouraging employees to ask questions and guaranteeing a management response within the same day fostered a sense of entitlement to information about the business. Finally, the Board concluded that the union's support was adequate for certification. Vice-Chair Johnston noted that the union drive was highly successful prior to managerial intervention and had garnered the support of 44% of the employees. The subsequent plunge in support was the result of Wal-Mart's contravention of the Act." (Labour Law News, 1997) Windsor became Wal-Mart's first unionized store.
Why No Unions for Wal-Mart?
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is a full fledged retail store operator that serves various markets through unique retail formats on a global scale. The company is comprised of three main segments:
The Wal-Mart Stores has unique retail sub-segments made up of Discount Stores, Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets with all of these formats housed within the boarders of the United States. The SAM'S CLUB brand is a membership only service of open warehouse clubs. As of January 31, 2004, Wal-Mart operated approximately thirty-five hundred combined Discount Stores, Supercenters, SAM'S CLUBs and Neighborhood Markets in the United States alone.
The International segment consists of Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, China, South Korea, Mexico and Puerto Rico. "Outside of its U.S. operations, Wal-Mart is steadily and cautiously staking its claim in a number of international markets to help ensure long-term growth. So far, he results have been phenomenal. It now operates more than 1,000 units in nine countries, and sales approached $41 billon dais year. If Wal-Mart International were a separate company, it would be No. 33 on the Fortune 500." (McTaggart, 2003)
The global operation is segmented as can be expected since this group serves diverse nationalities and markets. Thus, the International sector has many different formats of retail stores and restaurants. "Since 1994 Wal-Mart Canada has created more than 41,000 permanent positions and has added over 100 new store locations. This number is constantly increasing as we continue to expand." (Wal-Mart Canada, 2004) This also encompasses a number of the regular Discount Stores, Supercenters and SAM'S CLUBs all of which operate outside of the United States. The international area also has a large share of the Seiyu, Ltd. A retailer in Japan.
The organization sincerely believes that it is employee friendly. "Our people make the difference! "Our relationship with the Associates is a partnership in the truest sense. it's the only reason our company has been able to consistently outperform the competition - and even our own expectations." Sam Walton." (Wal-Mart Canada, 2004) the company traditionally credits its overall success on its human resources. Whether this is actually the case or not seems irrelevant because the one thing the company has done for sure is that they have found a way to distinguish themselves from their competition.
Wal-Mart is a company that has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid the possibility of their Canadian labor force becoming unionized. Similar to the automobile industry, Wal-Mart will continue to lobby against unions and inherent supportive legislation. Consider the recent reevaluation of the automobile industry. "Right-to-work status, non-union status continues to be a big attraction, particularly for foreign manufacturers." (Corbett, 2002) the automobile industry has begun to migrate away from the Midwest, North and parts of Canada to try to mimic retail giant Wal-Mart's 'union free' workforce.
Automobile manufactures have begun moving to the southern regions of the United States in…