Wal-Mart wins war against union - Macleans.ca
 

Wal-Mart wins war against union

Retail giant has right to close stores to shut out organized labour, Supreme Court rules


 

It might be hard ball. It might even be, to use the judges’ own words, “socially reprehensible.” But Wal-Mart has every right to close stores in the face of unionization drives, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled today. The decision follows the closure of two stores in Quebec in which employees had been organizing to form a union local, and represents a blow for labour groups who had hoped to crack the U.S.-based chain’s no-union policy. But the decision was a foregone conclusion: the unions were asking the courts to set an extraordinary precedent by forcing a business operator to keep its doors open—an incursion on basic freedoms one would think would be reserved only for the greatest emergencies.

Ottawa Citizen


 
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Wal-Mart wins war against union

  1. Thank god for that. Considerate of Supreme Court to allow companies to decide for themselves who they employ and where.

    • I happen to agree with this decision, but let's not conflate companies with people. Corporations are a social construction, and thus ought to be subject to the rules that society chooses (I lean fairly libertarian, nevertheless, but I dislike corporations being viewed as holding essential rights in the same way individuals do.).

      • Corporations are just groups of people, albeit with a formal designation.

        Therefore the rights of an individual to make his own business decisions map to corporations. The owners/shareholders (or their delegates the business executives) have the right to keep their business open or close it as they see fit.

  2. Consumers: 1, Freedom of Association: 1, Unions: 0.

  3. UNION LOSES SELF-INFLICTED WAR — ITS MEMBERS VICTIMIZED BY ITS OWN GREED

    There. Fixed the headline for you.

    • I don't know myl. I worked a lot of years in retail (grocery) and it's hard to paint the typical union demands as greedy. This particular battle was a foolish one to take on, I agree, and in many ways unions have become dinosaurs. But I suspect the demands would have run closer to decent working conditions, fairness in allocating shifts, and something approaching a living wage: hardly the stuff of greed.

      • "Pricing" itself out of the market, thereby losing everything. And knowing that's what would happen, but hoping that government meddling in the marketplace would somehow game the system in favour of those who chose to price themselves out of the market.

        If workers weren't lining up for the jobs, because the conditions sucked so much, the employer would have no choice but to plate the working conditions with gold. Now? Well, now there's just no store at all. No jobs. Less retail competition for consumers to benefit from. Except, if I recall correctly, one town over where the workers were only too happy to don the blue vests with no union whatsoever. So I remain quite comfortable with "self-inflicted" and "greed" in my headline edit.

        • Fair enough. And as I mentioned in a comment above, I tend to lean fairly libertarian about these sorts of things (i.e., we can't really force businesses to operate).

          That said, we tend to treat retail workers like garbage in our society (as opposed to auto workers, for example, for whom we fork out billions in bribes to the manufacturers).

          I'm not sure that trying to stand up for basic working standards – even in the face of jusidictional races for the lowest cost – represents greed. But as I said, many years in retail have coloured my take on this particular industry, so perhaps I'm too biased.

      • "But I suspect the demands would have run closer to decent working conditions, fairness in allocating shifts, and something approaching a living wage: hardly the stuff of greed."

        Non unionized work places in Canada are not similar to third world factories, no matter what you might think. We actually have laws that deal with "decent working conditions" and "a living wage" that are not dependent on whims of companies/unions.

        • Where did I draw a comparison to third world factories?

          Do you seriously think one can live on minumum wage?

          Also, I was personally witness to teenagers engaging in very unsafe activities in various stores – all with the knowledge of adult managers. I have been witness to the allocation of shifts being used as an indirect (and weasely) manner of squeezing out staff with backbones.

          As for the "more money for less work": one could suggest that represents a balance to the employer's demand of "more work for less money".

          I'm not much of union guy, as a general rule. But retail workers tend to be among the least empowered, and the benefits of a union to those workers would hardly be comparable to the largesse seen in other industries, I can assure you.

    • Are you on crack? You call minimum wage greed? Working crappy dead end jobs just to make millions more to the fat cats who are already wealthy beyond imagination. What an incredibly ignorant comment, it shows you are just absolutely oblivious to the world around you.

      • Dear vowel-less correspondent: One does not need greed or a union for minimum wage. The union was greedy enough to sacrifice the entire store full of jobs in order to price its members' demands out of the market. And now that community has lost the jobs and the competitive retailer. Not smooth.

  4. "But I suspect the demands would have run closer to decent working conditions, fairness in allocating shifts, and something approaching a living wage: hardly the stuff of greed."

    Non unionized work places in Canada are not similar to third world factories, no matter what you might think. We actually have laws that deal with "decent working conditions" and "a living wage" that are not dependent on whims of companies/unions.

  5. Corporate profit vs. working poor.

    What's sad is that people thought the working poor had a chance…

    • Socialism does not pay for itself. You eventually run out of other people's money, as Thatcher pointed out.

      • I think she would also question the Court's opinion that it may be socially reprehensible for Walmart to close in the face of unionization. It's interesting that it did not seem to occur to them to even consider that it might be the unions that are socially reprehensible, which was the theme of her administration – that modern unions reduce employment, reduce the quality of goods available for everyone while increasing their prices, and can create a wage inflation spiral – altogether reducing the well being of everyone in a society other than themselves in the short term.

        It is really encouraging though, that the Court did not consider it's opinion to be relevant to the legality of the issue.

  6. Well, hey, don't get me started on the auto workers…

  7. They did. They had JOBS. Now they don't.

    And would you care to explain how doing away with corporate profits will actually protect jobs? This oughta be good…

    • I said that when the two competing interests come to a head of course the working poor don't have a chance.

      There will always be an endless supply of the working poor desperate to stay afloat. The most exploitative and low-paying corporations will always have an endless supply of desperate poor to hire aka – disposable employees.

  8. It says something (not anything good) about the courts in Canada that the unions even thought they had a chance on this one.

    • Kinda, but not for the reasons you think.

  9. Heh.

    That's the thing: these corporations are hardly without social supports. Everything from the roads that let them transport goods, to the various incentives offered by levels of government, to the security in currency, policing, etc. Yes, they pay taxes. And yes, there are protections in law for workers. And yes, in many cases unions have created an insane environment where merit and efficiency are stiffled.

    But I guess I have trouble – at least for this particular sector – in casting worker attempts at leveling the playing field a bit as purely selfish, since the employers are hardly self-sustaining free agents.

    Hope I'm making sense here – I'm not frothing mad at a failure of a WalMart to unionize or anything. But to ignore (not that you did) that coporations receive considerable benefits from society makes it all to easy to cast unions as completely unfair and counterproductive forces.

  10. I seem to recall there was some American court decision in the late 1800s that essentially gave businesses individual-like rights, and that the results have been judged with mixed approval (ie., some see it as a historic accident with unintended consequences).

    But it's not fully accurate to say that corporations are just collections of people. There are particular protections for the individuals involved (for example, one can bankrupt their companyy without facing personal bankruptcy). There are certain tax "games' that corportations can engage in – unavailable to individuals (I can't write off the depreciated value of my home computer, for example).

    I basically agree with this decision, but I sure wish we'd stop the practice of bribing corporations with taxpayer money, if we're going to let them act like completely autonomous free agents.

  11. I'm definitely going to take a look at the case on the supreme court website. Assuming the original board determination that the employer was acting out of anti-union animus was correct (and there's an obvious piece of evidence saying it was), some sort of remedy should be available, even if the store is closed and can't be reopened.

    • The remedy is two weeks wages for floor employees & a bit more for managers.

      Now all we need to do is organize every WalMart & we can drive them out of business. Not because they can't afford to pay higher wages, but because all the stores are closed.

      • I think that's severence, not the penalty for illegal union busting. See below.

  12. In fact, i will bet even without reading the decision that this sentence is probably misleading:

    But Wal-Mart has every right to close stores in the face of unionization drives, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled today.

    • Called it!

  13. But that's the thing that needs a little remedial work. You see the two as competing interests, where one has to conquer the other.

    Minimum wage laws. Work safety laws. Anti-discrimination laws. Paid vacation days regulations. Laws against harassment in the workplace. Employer-contributions to any number of mandatory "benefits."

    Competition with other employers. Competition with the generous subsidies of the idle (welfare, EI), old age pensions, old age security, etc..

    All of the above give the working poor "a chance" to improve their lot in life. But no. Some schmuck saw hundreds of potential dues-paying suckers and here we are.

  14. It's true that the finances of a corporation are separate from the finances of its members w.r.t. to "piercing the corporate veil" etc., but this is because the finances are held in common by the group rather than divided amongst the members. Sort of like Canada can go bankrupt without every Canadian going bankrupt, but that doesn't mean that Canada isn't fundamentally just a bunch of Canadians.

    I agree about not bribing corporations though. Public money shouldn't be showered on them any more than it should be showered on individuals without some pressing reason concerning the common good.

  15. While it is a grey afternoon, I cannot have a socialism vs. capitalism debate on a Friday afternoon as either system unfettered leads to the destruction of societies and giving up sovereignty to removed entities.

  16. Clearly, it may be a viable strategy for Walmart's competitors to support a unionization drive in the nearest Walmart, whether or not the competitor is unionized.

  17. The dissenters are fairly emphatic as well… can't find the link right now but it's not all
    as simple as it seems.
    But for most of the resident commenters God spoke years ago, so it doesn't matter.

  18. I guess the solution would be to try and unionise all the Walmarts in Canada simultaneously, in secret. Which task would, I suppose, baffle even Falun Gong. But, given Walmart's reach, I wonder if they wouldn't just close down every Canadian location — must be a small part of what they make in North America.

    • Zellers, Sears, the Bay, Mark's Work Warehouse, grocery stores, pharmacies, & automotive service centres across the country are cheering your idea, Jack. For the obvious need to stick it to the evil capitalists and defend the vulnerable slav– uh, workers? No, no, no. For the elimination of a competitor.

      And they won't have to close all of their stores down. Canadian Wal-Mart workers may not be the most highly educated of our workforce, but they're not stupid.

      • They're definitely the most put-upon, as their employer has pioneered the idea of "stealing time," whereby employees are chased from aisle to aisle by a Mongol with a huge riding crop, shrieking at them to quit chatting.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Wal-Mar

        You're going to bat for the epitome of bad capitalism, MYL. Much better to save your battered copy of The Wealth of Nations for Zellers, Sears, the Bay, Mark's Work Warehouse, grocery stores, pharmacies, & automotive service centres across the country.

        • "Another study by Global Insight has found that Wal-Mart's growth between 1985 and 2004 resulted in food-at-home prices that were 9.1% lower and overall prices (as measured by the Consumer Price Index) that were 3.1% lower than they would otherwise have been"

          "Studies of Wal-Mart show consumers benefit from lower costs. A 2005 Washington Post story reported that "Wal-Mart's discounting on food alone boosts the welfare of American shoppers by at least $50 billion per year."[101] A study in 2005 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology measured the effect on consumer welfare and found that the poorest segment of the population benefits the most from the existence of discount retailers"

          Both quotes from Wiki.

          Selling affordable products to poor people is 'bad capitalism'? I have never understood why Wal-Mart gets all the venom. I understand that WalMarts have some negative aspects but they also have positives, which no one ever seems to mention.

          • Oh, that's quite true. It's also single-handedly kept inflation down.

          • That's precisely what it's done Jack. Not just Wal-Mart, but the whole big box concept of mass merchandising. Sears started the process with the "Wish Book" in 1897, and with their first "department stores" that opened in 1925.

          • Really, department stores? Those were ultra-chic, no? These big box stores seem rather to have taken the "Honest Ed's" concept to the non-urban masses.

            You have to admit, though, that those box stores have annihilated the suburban community mall, the only real vestige of shared space that once existed in the suburbs. Maybe it's irreparable, and maybe there's a net benefit, but it's still a huge loss.

          • I can't say I'm really sentimental about the suburban mall, but there's no doubt Wal-Mart has done it's part to squash it. I remember in 1977 as a kid, when Unicity S.C. opened in West St. James (Winnipeg). It was kind of exciting, especially for us because we lived outside the city and it was easy to get to. In the late 1990s, Wal-Mart bought it, gutted it, and turned it into a bigger Wal-Mart. But the mall was dying anyway – the Peg hit a growth wall shortly after it was built, and the westward expansion of the suburbs never happened. And yes, many other suburban malls are declining. Visit Lincoln Fields in Ottawa (yuck – bring hand sanitizer). Wal-Mart wants to abandon that site and build elsewhere, and I can't say I blame them. Without Wal-Mart as a tennant, the mall will be leveled, and the owners have said as much. I see it as a continued evolution of retailing, with negatives and positives.

  19. You know who the big bad boogieman was 100 years ago? Sears. More specifically, the Sears catalogue. The first Sears "Wish Book" was mailed across America in 1897, and it put thousands of small trading posts and local stores out of business almost overnight.

    It's remarkable how attitudes have changed about mass merchandising over time. In the early 60s, President Kennedy celebrated supermarkets, saying they "…have enabled a higher standard of living and contributed importantly to our economic growth."

    And honestly, I think that's why so many people have a hate-on for Wal-Mart. It enables the masses to afford a standard of living that, until recently, was available only to the educated classes. What's a cultured, progressive urbanite to think when he sees bus drivers and waitresses and construction workers carting flat screen TVs out of the store for one third the price he paid not two years ago? He's got to go out and by another new toy just to differentiate himself. Being better than others never used to be such hard work.

    • And honestly, I think that's why so many people have a hate-on for Wal-Mart. It enables the masses to afford a standard of living that, until recently, was available only to the educated classes…

      ***
      You claim to come by this belief honestly, you say?

      • What's the first thing out of anyone's mouth when they want to insult what someone is wearing? "Where'd she get that? Wal-Mart?" And you could "honestly" reach another conclusion?

        I don't buy clothes there myself, save for the odd T-shirt or underwear, but you can make the obligatory snide suggestion that I do if it makes you feel superior. Mask your arrogance in a fashionable concern for the working poor if you wish. But don't act so surprised when someone calls you on it.

        • Now I'm confused. First your imaginary eltists are upset that people get to buy Wal-Mart items, now they put them down for having Wal-mart items.

          I assume you are drunk.

          • Now I'm confused. Just now? Likely it's a chronic condition.

  20. I would also note that most Wal-Mart bashers can afford to shop elsewhere. As for the wages issue, think it over. Wal-Mart didn't invent low wages. Mom & Pop stores pay minimum wage too, despite charging more for their merchandise.

  21. I worked at Superstore for awhile. The only thing the union did for me was ensure my dues put me below minimum wage.

  22. I used to work at Walmart, I hated it. I got a job working at at unionized Kroger grocery store and was shocked at how shoddy it operated, skirting labor and safety laws and treated it's hourly workers. Most the workers were part time and were scheduled so they wouldn't qualify for raises and insurance. If they did they would get written up for bullshit reasons to give them a bad evaluation. Screw unions, Walmart treated it workers far better, wish I never left. Stuck flipping burgers at Mcdonald's now… still trying to get a job back at Walmart.