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180-plus Walmart workers gain UFCW Canada union contract in Québec

A Québec arbitrator has awarded a collective agreement to Walmart workers in St-Hyacinthe, Québec, making them the first main store "associates" in Québec to be covered by a union contract

ST-HYACINTHE, QUÉBEC, April 8, 2009 /Marketwire/

Approximately 180 workers in St-Hyacinthe, Québec, have become the first group of main store Walmart employees in the province to gain the protection of a union contract. The arbitrated collective bargaining agreement was delivered to the St-Hyacinthe workers and the world's largest retailer on Wednesday, April 8, after more than four years of legal challenges, negotiations, and mediation.

The St-Hyacinthe contract, covering the members of UFCW Canada Local 501, includes seniority rights, wage increases and a wage ladder free from favouritism, and, for the first time ever, a legally-binding grievance procedure that provides more stability, fairness, and dignity in the workplace.

"Our St-Hyacinthe members have a lot to be proud of," said Wayne Hanley, national president of UFCW Canada. "Because of their determination, and Québec's progressive labour laws, the workers have made history, but it was hard won. It's been a long, difficult road for the St-Hyacinthe members and their families," said Hanley, the leader of the union dedicated over the last decade to helping Walmart workers exercise their constitutional right to join a union and bargain collectively.

The St-Hyacinthe contract comes on the heels of an August 2008 arbitration that delivered a collective agreement to a group of Tire & Lube Express (TLE) workers at a Walmart in Gatineau, Québec. Walmart summarily closed the TLE because it argued the union contract would jeopardize its "business model".

In 2005, Walmart also shut a store in Jonquière, Québec, immediately after the union applied for binding arbitration.

In January, the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments that by closing the store, Walmart violated the Charter rights of the Jonquière employees. The court's decision is expected by the end of September 2009.

"It's time for Walmart to start walking the talk. It describes itself as a socially responsible company committed to environmental sustainability and helping people to 'live better'. Those are important things, but so are workers' rights," said Hanley. "The St-Hyacinthe contract challenges Walmart to truly demonstrate that it's serious about being a community partner and a positive force in Canada and the world."

In 2005, UFCW Canada was also certified as the bargaining agent for the St-Hyacinthe Tire & Lube Express. An arbitrated contract for the St-Hyacinthe TLE is expected by the end of the year.

First contract negotiations are also underway for a main store and TLE in Hull, Québec, and for a Walmart main store location in Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

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