The Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) in a decision that has major ramifications for the labor movement. On Friday, June 27th, the court ruled for the union representing former Wal-Mart employees who had argued the grocery giant violated Quebec labor laws by closing a store in Jonquière, Quebec just months after the employees voted to unionize.
In its 5-2 decision, the court determined that the company did not offer convincing proof the four-year-old store was suffering financial problems.
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The court also indicated the 190 employees terminated when the store was closed were wronged and are entitled to compensation.
Bernard Philion, one of the lawyers who represented the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in the nearly long legal battle, claimed the court’s decision is a message to big corporations.
“No matter how big the employer is, the Quebec legislation protects workers and their rights,” Philion said.
In an initial comment, a spokesperson for Wal-Mart Canada told CBC Montreal that the company is “disappointed” with the decision.
A few hours later, Alex Roberton, Wal-Mart Canada’s director of corporate affairs, sent an email to the media stating, “We will review the decision carefully in order to determine what our next steps will be.”
Further details on Wal-Mart’s case
After the vote to unionize in mid-2004, the union and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) tried to negotiate a contract. However, after several months, attempts to reach a collective agreement failed.
Then in February of 2005, the parties were sent to arbitration, but that same day, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) announced it was closing the store. The store closed on April 29, 2005, leaving around 190 employees without jobs.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) argued they closed the store because it wasn’t profitable, but the fired employees said the employer shut it down in response to the contract dispute.
The union’s first lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) failed when the Supreme Court made a ruling that the employees’ freedom of association rights weren’t violated by the decision to close the store.
The union’s lawyers filed a new appeal with the Supreme Court in 2013, this time arguing that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) violated a provision of the Quebec labor code by changing the workers’ conditions of employment without consent during the negotiations regarding the collective agreement.