Wal-Mart Canada announced the closure of a unionized store in Quebec on Friday, a week ahead of schedule, prompting a senior union leader to call the retail giant "cowardly."
The store in Saguenay, whose employees formed a union last year but were never able to negotiate their first contract, was slated to close on May 6. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said the decision to close store, about 155 miles north of Quebec City, was "easy," since it had been losing money.
"Anyone who saw the store in the last few days should not have been surprised," said company spokesman Kevin Groh. "It was virtually a shell and there comes a time when it doesn't make a lot of sense to operate a department store without merchandise."
The world's largest retailer has fought off efforts to unionize its U.S. stores, but the United Food and Commercial Workers, or UFCW, has been making some headway in Canada. Michael Forman of the CFCW in Quebec accused the store of "cowardly" behavior.
"They accelerated the process of emptying the store because they're aware that next week there's going to be a day of action across the country at various Wal-Marts," Forman said.
Henri Masse, head of the Quebec Federation of Labor, called the early closing the latest "deceitful attack," and said it was an attempt by the U.S. retail giant to avoid the media glare as unions are planning a series of "actions" at Wal-Marts across Canada on May 6.
The company announcement came just as a provincial labor commission was to hear arguments Friday on a union motion aimed at preventing the company from closing the Saguenay store and other Wal-Mart outlets in Quebec.
Groh said the employees received 12 weeks notice, would be paid until May 6 and would receive two weeks of severance pay for every year of service.
That means most of them will get between seven and eight weeks of severance pay as well as career counseling, he said.
"Under normal circumstances, they would be entitled to two weeks of working notice, so I think we've gone above and beyond, and it's something we're very pleased to have been able to do," he was quoted as saying by The Canadian Press.
Groh said union contract demands would have required the hiring of 30 additional full-time employees.
"The business could not continue and frankly we were unable to convince the union to accept a contract that would have allowed the store to continue operating profitably and efficiently," he said.
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