The Supreme Court yesterday rejected Wal-Mart Canada Corp.’s fight to keep
a “union prevention handbook” away from the labour board probing its
conduct during union drives in Saskatchewan.
The country’s top court refused to hear Wal-Mart’s argument that
the province’s labour regulator has no right to see a host of corporate
documents, including one entitled, “Wal-Mart: A Manager’s Tool Box
to Remaining Union-Free.”
Yesterday’s decision means Wal-Mart must hand over the documents to Saskatchewan’s
labour board, or face criminal sanctions.
“This is very significant,” said Paul Meinema, president of United
Food and Commercial Workers’ Local 1400, which is trying to organize two
Wal-Mart stores in Saskatchewan.
“The highest court in the land has said to Wal-Mart, ‘You have
to obey the rules of our province and our country.’”
Andrew Pelletier, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the retailer is “disappointed
but not surprised.”
“We wanted to have this case heard at the Supreme Court of Canada because
we felt there were serious and fundamental democratic principles at stake here,”
Wal-Mart said the request violated its right to privacy, calling the documents
“irrelevant” to the labour board’s investigation.
That view was shared by a provincial judge who dismissed the order in July,
describing the labour board’s request as a “fishing expedition.”
Saskatchewan’s court of appeal later overturned that decision. Wal-Mart
then petitioned the Supreme Court to hear its case.
Yesterday’s ruling is a setback for Wal-Mart, which has been facing a
series of public relations disasters in the last year over unionizing efforts
at its stores, charges that it pays low wages, alleged sex discrimination, the
use of illegal workers and accusations it tried to freeze out local competition.
Earlier this week, H. Lee Scott, Wal-Mart’s chief executive, held an
unprecedented two-day media event to answer the retailer’s critics. In
January, Wal-Mart took out high-priced ads in major U.S. newspapers to spruce
up the retailer’s image.
In Canada, the retailer has been waging a war of attrition with the union over
organizing efforts at a dozen outlets across the country.
The fight reached a head in February when Wal-Mart announced the closure of
a Quebec store that was unionized several months earlier. The company said the
outlet was losing money, a claim union critics deny.
Quebec’s labour board censured Wal-Mart for intimidating employees at
another store while a union organizer was arrested in Windsor, Ont., for allegedly
punching a Wal-Mart employee.
Organizing efforts in Saskatchewan have been marred by accusations of dirty
dealing on the part of Wal-Mart and union leaders, charges the labour board
A group of employees stepped into the fray with claims they were bullied by
organizers into signing union cards and were paid to sign union cards. At least
one person affiliated with the union has admitted paying off two employees.
The union said the individual was not part of its organizing team.
Saskatchewan’s labour board is hoping Wal-Mart’s documents, such
as the union prevention handbook, will shed light on whether company officials
pressured workers into making the accusations.