Progressive politics, ideas & culture

November-December 2003

Union Busted

Julie Crysler

Score another win for Wal-Mart in its battle against the United Food and Commercial Workers.

In August, the retail behemoth beat back the UFCW’s campaign to unionize the Wal-Mart in Thompson, Manitoba.

So why did so many minimum-wage slaves with zero benefits and job security vote against the union? Michael Forman of the UFCW’s national office points to a number of key factors. First, partway through the drive, a rumour spread that if workers unionized, Wal-Mart would close the store. In Thompson, a town of just 15,000, the loss of a big employer like Wal-Mart would be devastating. Given Wal-Mart’s record, the fears are justified. After the meat department of one U.S. store unionized, Wal-Mart shut it down (though it has since been forced to re-open it).

Forman also said that the vote was held in the store under the watchful eye of Wal-Mart security cameras. That might explain why 27 employees didn’t show up to cast their ballots. That, and the fact that UFCW had its strongest support from the younger Wal-Marters÷many of whom were away on holiday because the vote was held two days after the local community college’s graduation.

Robert Ziegler of Local 789 says he has no evidence workers were intimidated, which has been blamed for the failure of previous attempts to unionize Wal-Mart stores. Charges are pending against Wal-Mart in Quebec, and a B.C. court recently upheld UFCW complaints that the company had harassed workers during the drive.

Still, Ziegler dismisses the 54-61 loss as a temporary set-back. Now that workers know how strong support is for the union, he says, they won’t be afraid to vote for it. Under Manitoba labour law, the union must wait six months to re-apply for certification. He also says that Local 789 is pushing ahead with its campaign. A number of Manitoba Wal-Marts are close to certification. Ziegler says another location may announce a union vote before Thompson’s waiting period is over.

Julie Crysler is a recovering editor of This Magazine. Her current gig is at CBC Radio.

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