Sunday, April 12, 2009

Unionized Quebec Wal-Mart workers get 1st contract

Unionized Quebec Wal-Mart workers get 1st contractUnionized workers at Wal-Mart in St-Hyacinthe, Que., now have a collective agreement.(CBC)It took nearly four years, but unionized workers at a Quebec Wal-Mart store now have their first collective agreement, a first in North America.

A Quebec arbitrator sealed the two-year deal for employees at the St-Hyacinthe Wal-Mart east of Montreal earlier this week.

Some 200 workers at the store received their union accreditation in January 2005, but called on an arbitrator when contract negotiations with the retail giant stalled.

The new agreement includes a $0.30 per hour wage increase on a yearly basis, for the next two years, for current employees.

New hires won’t be eligible for the wage increase.

Employees are delighted, said Louis Bolduc, director of the United Commercial and Food Workers. "We feel good. It's the only collective agreement [of its kind] in North America. We're really glad to have one," he told CBC News.

Wal-Mart spokesman Andrew Pelletier said the arbitrator indicated the retailer is competitive, and in some cases, pays better than rival Zeller’s.

He wouldn’t speculate on the future of the St-Hyacinthe outlet, and Bolduc said he’s not concerned about the store’s viability. "I’m not worried at all. I don’t see any reason why they would close the store, and there’s no indication they would close the store,” he said Thursday.

Wal-Mart shut down its store in Saguenay, Que., in April 2005 after workers unionized and were engaging in a binding arbitration process to settle a contract. Two-hundred workers lost their jobs. At the time, Wal-Mart said the store wasn’t profitable.

The retailer also closed its automotive centre in Gatineau, Que., just across the river from Ottawa, after employees unionized and an an arbitrator imposed a 33 per cent wage increase.

Employees at three Saskatchewan stores, and one other Quebec outlet have also applied for union certification.

With files from The Canadian Press