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Wal-Mart closes unionized Canada center

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[October 17, 2008]  LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc., known for its strong stance against workers unionizing, on Thursday closed a tire and lube center in Canada where workers had voted to organize.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the five workers and one manager at the center were offered jobs at comparable Wal-Mart facilities or elsewhere in the store, which is located in Gatineau, Quebec, and has more than 250 workers. The store itself will remain open.

HardwareThe closure comes after an arbitrator in Quebec had imposed a labor contract on the facility in August.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union called the closure an "attack" on Wal-Mart workers. Wal-Mart in 2005 closed a store in Jonquiere, Quebec, after workers there agreed to unionize. The union has a Canada Supreme Court case pending over whether those workers' rights were violated.

Wayne Hanley, president of UFCW Canada, said the closing violates workers' rights.

"Wal-Mart thinks a cheap oil change is more important than the Canadian constitution," Hanley said.

Wal-Mart Canada spokesman Andrew Pelletier said the contract that was imposed on Wal-Mart in August would have raised costs too much. "It could require us to increase consumer prices by more than 30 percent," Pelletier said.

Pelletier said the company bargained in good faith. He would not say Wal-Mart opposes unions but said the company prefers to deal directly with its workers.


"We think the best-case scenario is when the (employee) can deal directly with the company through an open door and ... open communication," he said.

Union-backed groups Wal-Mart Watch and WakeUpWalMart criticized the company for the closure.

"The Gatineau workers have merely exercised their human rights under Canadian law, something that is clearly unacceptable to Wal-Mart," Wal-Mart Watch director David Nasser said.

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WakeUpWalMart spokeswoman Meghan Scott said the company is "shamelessly anti-union."

Wal-Mart is actively opposing a bill before the U.S. Congress that would allow labor organizations to unionize workplaces without secret ballot elections.

"Many Wal-Mart customers are union members and we respect their work efforts and dedication, but we are opposed to card-check legislation in the United States because of coercion and loss of privacy. The last thing this country needs now ... is a bill that would hurt job creation and hurt prices for consumers," Wal-Mart spokesman Greg Rossiter said.

Wal-Mart has 309 stores in Canada and 77,000 workers.

[Associated Press; By CHUCK BARTELS]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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