VANCOUVER, BC: The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union is pushing strongly to unionize employees at seven Wal-Mart stores in Canada. If successful, it would be the first time any of the mega-merchant's employees held a union contract.
The BC Labour Relations Board is expected to make a decision on the union's application as early as this week. Canadian labor laws are made at the provincial level and are seen by the company as more anti-business than US laws, said Andrew Pelletier, director of corporate affairs for Wal-Mart Canada.
Wal-Mart plans to fight the UFCW at every step. Not only will the company bring its legal resources to bear on the labor board's decision, but it is targeting current employees with an internal communication program that seeks to discredit common criticisms of the retailing behemoth.
That program, tagged "Setting the Record Straight," distributes a fact sheet to Canadian employees that uses statistics and independent studies to dispute assertions made by critics, such as "Wal-Mart will provide 'dead-end,' poor quality jobs" and "Wal-Mart is an American company that does nothing to support Canada."
Pelletier characterized the UFCW's application as "very unusual" because it includes only a small number of workers in several stores.
Wal-Mart has fought American unions in the past by arguing that they must include all employees in a given store to be valid. The company's formal position on unions is that they are unnecessary "because we believe in maintaining an environment of open communications."
UFCW director of communications Tom Cameron-Fawkes said his organization has been working on the Canadian effort for more than two years now. Instead of using a PR push to aid it in its fight, he said, the union tries to "do everything quickly and quietly" in order to stay under the company's radar as long as possible.
The UFCW has been stymied in past attempts to unionize Wal-Mart stores in the US. Asked if the Canadian drive could set the stage for another foray into America, Cameron-Fawkes replied, "We discuss it all the time, but I'm not in a position to say" whether formal plans have been made by union leadership.
Pelletier said that Wal-Mart Canada's PR program is handled primarily in-house, with Canadian agencies brought in as needed. "We have to do a better job of telling our story," he said. "We're being held to a higher standard."