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Wal-Mart says Sask labour board is biased, argues it can't get fair hearing

SASKATOON - Wal-Mart Canada says members of the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board are biased and the retail giant can't get a fair hearing into complaints by the union trying to organize stores in the province.

Wal-Mart claims the board 'has and will continue to breach the rules of natural justice in failing to provide a fair hearing to the applicant.'

The company wants board members hearing several Wal-Mart cases to be terminated, company lawyer John Beckman said Thursday in a submission to Court of Queen's Bench.

The board has been dealing with Wal-Mart's opposition to union certification at two stores in Weyburn, Sask.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union says a majority of employees have signed membership cards at both stores. Under Saskatchewan law, that means automatic certification is granted.

But Wal-Mart alleges the union's membership drive in June 2004 used 'lying, cheating and deceiving' tactics to force workers into supporting the union.

Last November, the board quashed seven of Wal-Mart's claims of unfair labour practice against UFCW.

The board is still deciding about the status of three remaining claims.

Beckman's submission on Thursday relied heavily on the affidavit of former board vice-chair Walter Matkowski.

Matkowski alleges in a lawsuit against the Saskatchewan government that he was demoted and dismissed from the labour board because he had made rulings against unions.

Matkowski also claims he and other board members were forced to read the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour's newsletter.

The lawsuit contains allegations that have not been proven in court.

Beckman also tried to insinuate the board was somehow tainted because former Saskatchewan labour minister Deb Higgins used to be a UFCW official.

But when Justice Frank Gerein asked for proof Higgins had any involvement in the matters before the court, Beckman withdrew his comments.

Lawyer Drew Plaxton, representing UFCW, called Beckman's arguments 'yet another attempt by Wal-Mart to obstruct the activity of the (board) and prevent unionization.'

Plaxton said there is 'no evidence' anyone was ever forced to read the federation newsletter. He noted several sources have contradicted Matkowski's yet unproven claim.

Gerein reserved his decision.

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