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Canada high court upholds Wal-Mart's right to close store after unionization

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] on Friday upheld [judgment text] the right of Wal-Mart Inc. [corporate website, JURIST news archive], the world's largest retailer, to close its operations in Jonquiere, Quebec, shortly after a union attempted to organize employees in 2005. In a 6-3 decision, the court held that there was no law or precedent that forced an employer to stay in business. The suit was filed by laid off Wal-Mart workers who claimed that the retailer violated labor laws by shutting down its operations while negotiations were taking place for a collective agreement. The former employees also alleged that Wal-Mart had a history of being anti-union and that the closure of the store was a direct attack against the employees being involved with the union. The former employees brought suit under section 17 of the Quebec Labour Code [CanLII materials], which states that an employee may not be sanctioned for exercising any right under the Code. The court indicated that the former employees could have brought suit under section 12 instead, noting that:

A claim under s. 12 is logical because the essential thrust of the appellant's position is not that he alone or with some colleagues was singled out for discriminatory treatment but that Wal-Mart targeted generally the rights of all employees at the Jonquiere store (and elsewhere). Jobs were lost not only by union supporters but by others who were indifferent about the union or who were altogether against union representation.

Wal-Mart claims that it closed the store due to poor financial performance coupled with demands by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union to hire more employees [CBC report] pursuant to the first collective agreement. Wal-mart won both at the Quebec Superior Court and the Quebec Court of Appeals [official websites]. This was the first North American Wal-Mart to become unionized.

This is not the first time that Wal-Mart has been the subject of labor related disputes. Last year, labor groups in the US filed suit [JURIST report] against Wal-Mart alleging that the company violated federal election laws by forcing employees to attend meetings where political and presidential campaign issues were discussed. At issue in that suit was the Employee Free Choice Act [HR 800 materials], which would require a company to recognize a union as soon as a majority of a company's employees signed cards saying they want to organize a union.

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