You've got to hand it to the guys who run Wal-Mart. They don't mess around.
Last week, for instance, they announced that they're closing the Wal-Mart store they recently opened in Quebec, Canada, apparently because the workers there had the temerity to join a union.
The world's largest retailer doesn't like unions and has so far succeeded in keeping them out of its stores in the United States. By avoiding union contracts that spell out pay and benefits, it can keep a leg up on competitors. It's easier to keep prices low when the employees get less.
Canadian workers are a bit more feisty, though, and those employed at the Jonquiere, Quebec, store voted last year to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, becoming the first Wal-Mart store in North America to be unionized.
Organizing the union proved to be the easy part, though. Coming to terms on a first contract with the mammoth corporation proved to be impossible.
So, under terms of Canadian labor law, the union petitioned Quebec's labor minister to appoint an arbitrator who ultimately has the power to impose a first contract on newly organized workplaces.
It soon became clear that no one is going to push Wal-Mart around. No workers. No union. And certainly no Canadian government.
The company's response to this brazen union move was swift and simple. Come May, the Jonquiere store will be closed and its 130 employees can just go someplace else to find work.
Wal-Mart execs claimed it was closing the store because it had failed to meet financial goals.
One did admit, though, that the union's demands "would have fundamentally changed the economic model" and would have required adding 30 employees to the store's work force. It can be tough, you know, abiding by such niceties as 40-hour workweeks.
The Canadian union has filed a complaint that Wal-Mart has bargained in bad faith by announcing it will close the store. No one expects much to come of it because companies have the right to open and close stores as they please.
The Arkansas-based conglomerate may have to shut more stores in Canada, though. Already employees at two other Wal-Marts in Quebec have petitioned for union recognition.
One thing Wal-Mart won't have to do in Canada, as it does in this country, is counsel its workers how to get the government to pay for their health care.
Canada already does that for all its citizens.
Dave Zweifel is editor of The Capital Times.
© 2005 Capital Times