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By Mark Gruenberg, PAI, ILCA Associate Member

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (PAI)--Facing Wal-Marts multi-million-dollar U.S. advertising blitz to convince consumers it doesnt harm its workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers answered with action, not words: Gains in Canada.

The million-member union, which is combating the notoriously low-paying anti-union million-worker retailer, just organized a second Wal-Mart in Quebec, at Ste. Hyacinthe, and is poised to win even more in British Columbia.

And if that wasnt enough, Saskatchewans top court ordered Wal-Mart to produce its labor law-breaking documents and manuals for that provinces labor board--and everyone else--to see.

UFCWs wins against Wal-Mart occur in Canada because provincial labor laws put more restrictions on company law-breaking than does the National Labor Relations Act in the U.S.

Some of those Canadian labor law provisions, including quicker decisions and bans on captive audience meetings, are models for sections of U.S. labor law reform legislation that the UFCW and the AFL-CIO are campaigning for.

In British Columbia, for example, the B.C. Labour Relations Board was expected to rule by Jan. 31 on UFCW Local 1518s petition to represent 70 Tire and Lube Express workers in seven Wal-Mart stores, local spokesman Andy Neufeld said.

Local 1518 filed the petition in late 2004, after it gathered recognition election cards from more than 50 percent of the workers. It previously got a vote among 170 Wal-Mart workers in Terrace, B.C., but company objections have delayed the count of those ballots.

"But once we file and get a ruling, it triggers a represen-tation vote within 10 days," under B.C. labor law, Neufeld added. That leaves Wal-Mart to object to the balloting or individual voters after the election is held, unlike in the U.S.

The quick vote in British Columbia, mandated by provincial law, also gave Wal-Mart virtually no time to mount an illegal anti-union drive, as it and other U.S. employers usually do.

But the issues with Wal-Mart in British Columbia were the same as they are in the U.S., Neufeld added: Low wages, no benefits, and lack of respect on the job.

"What they consider full-time work here, 28 hours, is widely considered a joke," he said. "But without an union, they can do pretty much what they want with their workers."

In the U.S., Wal-Mart says its workers are full-timers if they work 34 hours a week. Some 70 percent of Wal-Marts workers are female and potential plaintiffs in a massive class-action sex discrimination suit filed against the retailer in San Francisco.

While UFCW prepares for wins against Wal-Mart in British Columbia, it racked up the victory in Ste. Hyacinthe, 38 miles (60 kilometers) east of Montreal, on Jan. 20.

The Quebec Labour Relations Commission certified UFCW Local 501 as legal representative for workers at Ste.-Hyacinthe, after a majority of the 200 workers signed cards last October. Local 501 is already bargaining a first contract for Wal-Mart workers in Jonquiere, Quebec, the unions initial Canadian win.

"The momentum is picking up," said UFCW Canada National Director Michael J. Fraser after the Ste.-Hyacinthe win. "Wal-Mart workers now realize that if they want a union in their store, Wal-Mart cant stop them."

Wal-Mart complained that the lack of a secret ballot in Ste.-Hyacinthe is "undemocratic." That led Fraser to retort Wal-Mart wanted a vote "so the company can intimidate their employees to vote against the union."

In the U.S., UFCW fought back against the ad campaign through its own statements. And in New York City, unionists banded together to try to keep Wal-Mart out of the borough of Queens. After UFCW-led campaigns spotlighting its low wages, non-existent benefits and anti-worker practices, Wal-Mart was ejected last year from Los Angeles and pulled out of Chicago.

The Cincinnati Labor Council issued a Wal-Mart fact sheet and established the Tri-State Coalition for Good Jobs. It noted
"Wal-Mart generated about $6.7 billion in net profit last year, while wages remained too low to buy basic necessities."

It also pointed out that company workers "struggle to pay their bills on the average $7.50 per hour wages, and cannot afford its meager health insurance. Wal-Mart shifts these employee costs to taxpayers because they wind up relying on government programs to provide the benefits Wal-Mart does not."

Other UFCW locals found huge public health care subsidies to children of low-paid Wal-Mart workers in Georgia and California.

"The dangers associated with Wal-Marts corporate practices have been exposed for what they are," said UFCW Local 881 President Ronald Powell of Chicago. His local led the drive against Wal-Marts on the citys South and West Sides.

"Wal-Mart is creating very serious consequences for working families, the retail, manufacturing, and service industries, the health care system, and the economy as a whole. There are many facts Wal-Mart selectively left out" of its ads. "But the real-ity of the damage cannot be ignored. Wal-Marts impact on the stability of Americas workforce is just too great," Powell said.

As the worlds largest retailer, he added, Wal-Mart "leads to a lower standard of living for millions of retail, service, and manufacturing workers and a race to the bottom."

Speaking just before a Jan. 6 New York City Council hearing on the proposed Wal-Mart store in Queens, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum blasted the behemoth. His union includes 40,000 New York City workers "who play by the rules," Appelbaum adds. Wal-Mart doesn't.

"When Wal-Mart opens, communities suffer. The question for us New Yorkers is this, 'What are our real values?' Wal-Mart's promise of low prices comes at too great a cost. Wal-Mart's business practices drive down standards for workers, putting pressure on all employers to compete at their level."

"Nearly 700,000 Wal-Mart workers are forced to get health insurance coverage paid for by other taxpayers. Wal-Mart shifts the cost of health insurance to taxpayers and other employers, driving up health care costs for all of us," Appelbaum said.


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