Term Paper: Industrial Disputes Law Employers and Unions

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Union Labor Disputes Canada

Wal-Mart Canada

This report is an evaluative report and summary about the international retail giant Wal-Mart. There is no better presentation than one that presents the varying opinions in legal philosophy between unions and employers. As of late, Wal-Mart has been trying to fend off multiple attacks by organized labor over the past decade in an attempt to maintain its union free managerial style. "Union leaders say their chances for organizing Wal-Mart workers shot up this week when a federal judge in San Francisco said 1.6 million current and former employees could sue the retailer for sex discrimination in a class-action lawsuit." (Ramstack, 2004)

The Wal-Mart situation covers a full spectrum of legal concerns such as the acquisition and termination of collective representation of employees, unfair labor practices and the associated regulations, collective bargaining schemes, the scope of individual's rights for collective bargaining and basic constitutional rights in a labor context. A detailed evaluation of the existing turbulence at Wal-Mart will present an excellent opportunity for identifying and assessing whether existing Canadian labor statutes will be sufficient in meeting the objectives of both Wal-Mart and labor factions or if those regulations will need to be reconsidered. Wal-Mart Canada has been experiencing ongoing attempts by labor to organize the company's employees.

Canadian legal statutes have come under some fire as well because the process of measuring how well a legal system is protecting employee rights is a difficult task. The process of hiring and firing an employee has always been a concern in a retail operation such as Wal-Mart. Existing laws are of concern in these new rounds of labor negotiations. However, Canadian labor parties have contended for decades that the labor laws that govern a worker's right to belong to a union has always been in favor of the employer so they have been going directly after legislators in their effort to level the playing field so to speak.

Introduction

This research document represents a full evaluative case study of the international retail giant Wal-Mart and their continued attempts to thwart organized labor efforts in Canada and the associated outcomes of existing Labor Review Board cases that have dealt with the retailer. This evaluative effort proved significant and therefore warranted additional investigation. "... these results have important public policy implications. Recent public policies are increasing economic integration in Europe and North America (by way of the North American Free Trade Agreement, for example), and there is clearly a need to understand the ramifications of this integration. Since multinational organizations frequently assume increased prominence when such integration occurs, the results presented here constitute important evidence on the effect on labor relations of this increasing economic integration." (Budd, 1994)

The detailed evaluation of the existing turbulence within the employee ranks of Wal-Mart presents an excellent opportunity to identify and assess existing Canadian labor statutes and their ability to meet the objectives of multinational organizations such as Wal-Mart. This report therefore is presented in a format that first presents a history of the problems, issues and concerns regarding Wal-Mart including efforts to organize Canadian employees. From there, the research moves into an evaluation of some blatant shortcomings of certification, unfair labor practices and remedy provisions in existing Canadian labor legislation and efforts by Wal-Mart to utilize these shortcomings in there disputes.

The foundation for this report has it roots in the recent efforts of America's largest retailer Wal-Mart being put in the precarious position of fending off multiple attempts to organize their employees by organized labor movements in both the United States and Canada. An example of the trends for labor organization can be demonstrated by the June 2004 combined efforts of multiple organized labor factions planning and implementing multi-million dollar campaigns in an effort to organize Wal-Mart's existing and potential employees.

Wal-Mart Guilty

Promoting and protecting workers' rights in multinational companies like Wal-Mart is often difficult. "When you're the world's biggest retailer, your size alone guarantees that virtually everyone has an opinion about you. For Wal-Mart, those opinions range from awe and admiration to fear and loathing, especially among its competitors, which now include nearly every retailer in the United States and a growing number of companies overseas." (McTaggart, 2003) the basic operating procedures and employee rights concerns for large retail companies in the world have poor track records for established hiring and firing, pay scale and work programmes.

However, on May of 2003, the British Columbia Labour Relations Board ruled against a local Wal-Mart citing that the store's management team in Quesnel violated employee rights in regard to a complaint from union officials. "The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 1518 laid a complaint against Wal-Mart as a result of the company's blatant interference with its employees' right to join a union. The Labour Relations Board found that Wal-Mart had violated the Labour Code which guarantees workers the right to decide free of intimidation and coercion to join, or not join, a union." (walmartworkerscanada, 2003)

The Labour Relations Board at the time ordered Wal-Mart's management to hold a meeting for its employees in the store to literally read the Summary of Decision of the findings that Wal-Mart was in deed guilty of violating the Labor Code. In addition, the Board also ruled that the union involved was to receive a thirty minute address for all employees' interested in hearing the recruitment pitch of the union officials as well. To add insult to injury, Wal-Mart was also required to post the verdict on the store's bulletin boards. One union member was quoted as having said, "All we as a Union have ever asked is that Wal-Mart respect the law in British Columbia in the same manner we do and allow its employees to make a fair and informed decision as to whether they want to join our Union or not. We are always prepared to accept the decision of the workers we attempt to organize and Wal-Mart should do the same." (walmartworkerscanada, 2003) the union official also was clear when he claimed that Wal-Mart practiced illegal behaviors on a regular basis. "Wal-Mart keeps pleading publicly how much it respects its employee's legal rights, but virtually every time employees talk to a Union, which is their right under the law, Wal-Mart violates those rights." (walmartworkerscanada, 2003)

Working conditions and employee rights

In April of 2003, attorneys opened a sex discrimination suit against Wal-Mart on behalf of one and half million women who the plaintiffs claimed were only seen as 'housewives supplementing their income.' "The suit, filed by six women in June 2001, accuses Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, of paying women less than men for similar work and awarding promotions through an old boys' network that has kept women's numbers low. Monday's motion sought to bring the statistics to life with declarations from 110 women in 30 states..." (walmartworkerscanada, 2003) Although these suits were filed in the United States, they could have international implications.

Wal-Mart's legal team did not deny that there may have been some cases of discrimination but of those, they were individual cases based on the fact that the organization is so large. They were also clear to point out that in no way were there any organization wide conspiracies. "Allen said the company conducted a study that showed men and women were paid substantially the same in 90% of the stores, and the proportion of women who won promotions was the same as the proportion who applied. He also said Wal-Mart is "an extremely decentralized company" that gives substantial autonomy to managers of its 3,400 stores." (walmartworkerscanada, 2003)

The key to this matter was that "women made up 67% of the company's hourly workers in 2001 but only 35.7% of assistant managers, 14.3% of store managers and 9.8% of district managers, plaintiffs' lawyers said. They said women earned about $1,100 a year less than men among hourly workers in 2001 and $14,500 less among management workers." (walmartworkerscanada, 2003)

This large contingent of female employees was not organized via labor party or union agreement because Wal-Mart is basically a non-union supporting organization and only a few locations have been mandated for certification. This type of law suit would be guaranteed to bring attention to the Wal-Mart working and fair labor conditions as well as to the many other employee relations concerns such as organization via unions. More attempts at organizing the often vocal and many times disgruntled Wal-Mart labor force may therefore be on the horizon. "In addition, the UFCW has spearheaded an organizing drive in Ontario, targeting the Wal-Mart store in Pickering. The Ontario Labour Relations Board is currently inquiring into union allegations that Wal-Mart committed an unfair labor practice by dismissing an employee of the Pickering store, and taking reprisals against another, because of their involvement in the union's organizing campaign." (Labour Law News, 2004)

Wal-Mart has been very instrumental at altering and possibly even establishing the working conditions of the entire nation of Canada. When a union wins certification in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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