Union Update

Vive le Quebec! Wal-Mart Workers Stand Up for Voice on the Job

Employees accredited to form only unionized Wal-Mart in North America: Company confirms store won’t close.

Air Line Pilot, October 2004, p.36

A Wal-Mart in Jonquière, Quebec, Canada, is on its way to becoming the only unionized Wal-Mart in North America after a ruling by the Quebec Labour Relations Board (QLRC) to grant employees union certification with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Canada.

The QLRC issued the union accreditation after a majority of employees at the store signed UFCW Canada membership cards. QLRC adjudicator Jocelyne Houle stated that "the applicant is representative, as required by law." An August 20 hearing finalized the specific definition of which employees will have the right to union representation.

"The Quebec certification shows that when workers’ rights are protected, Wal-Mart workers will exercise those rights for a voice at work. Our challenge is to make sure that governments protect workers’ rights across Canada, the United States, and around the world," says Joseph Hansen, UFCW International president and president of the Union Network International, a global trade federation representing 16 million workers in 100 countries.

The Labour Board victory is the latest in a series of organizing drives at Wal-Mart stores throughout Canada. The UFCW Canada has other applications pending for Wal-Mart stores in Weyburn and North Battleford, Sask.; in Terrace, B.C.; in Thompson, Man.; and in Brossard, Quebec, where a majority of workers have sought UFCW representation.

The Quebec store will be the first wall-to-wall Wal-Mart store whose workers have successfully chosen union representation. Meat department workers in the Jacksonville, Tex., Wal-Mart Supercenter voted for UFCW representation in 2000. Wal-Mart refused to bargain with the workers, despite orders from the National Labor Relations Board. It also eliminated the meat department in Jacksonville and across the United States in an attempt to scare workers from standing up for a voice on the job.

Wal-Mart stated publicly that it supports workplace democracy and that it would not close the store because workers chose a union. The UFCW Canada looks forward to sitting down to negotiating a first contract without delay.

Workers Protest Loss of Overtime Protections

In late August, thousands of workers in Florida, Missouri, Ohio, and the nation’s capital called on Congress to turn back President George W. Bush’s attack on overtime pay. The new regulations, which the administration engineered, could cost 6 million workers their right to overtime pay.

"If George Bush had to work the same kinds of jobs the rest of us do, I wonder how he would feel about somebody taking away his overtime pay," James Ware, a Washington, D.C., sous chef said at the U.S. Department of Labor, where nearly 1,000 union members gathered to protest Bush’s overtime pay take-away.

As a member of UNITE-HERE Local 25, Ware has a union contract that will protect his overtime pay, but he fears that the new rules will encourage employers to revoke workers’ eligibility for overtime pay in future contracts.

Speaking to the crowd in Washington, D.C., AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said, "History will record that on August 23 in the year 2004, America’s workers suffered the single biggest pay cut ever--since the founding of our country."

Carrying handmade signs, workers in Washington, D.C., protested the changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the first major attack on the law since it was enacted in 1938.

In Cleveland, teams of workers staked out dozens of busy downtown street corners and distributed nearly 3,000 leaflets urging people to contact their lawmakers to turn back Bush’s overtime pay assault.

The Cleveland Federation of Labor also held a press conference, with several workers speaking about the effect of the new overtime rules.

After workers in St. Louis spoke at a press conference co-sponsored by the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, 50 union volunteers distributed more than 2,000 leaflets about overtime pay throughout the downtown area.

WORKING AMERICA, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO for nonunion workers, co-sponsored the events in Washington, D.C., and other cities around the United States.

Although the new overtime pay rules are now in effect, Congress can block or repeal them.

The U.S. Senate has voted three times to stop President Bush’s overtime pay grab--but White House pressure and maneuvers by Republican congressional leaders have derailed the drives to protect workers’ paychecks.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) authored the three measures to block Bush’s overtime pay grab. He promised the crowd that when Congress reconvenes in September, Democrats and moderate Republicans, including Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), who also spoke at the rally, will continue the fight to block the Bush pay cut.

Calling August 23 "anti-Labor Day," Sen. Harkin said, "This is not the time to stick working families with a pay cut. Time-and-a-half pay accounts for 25 percent of the total income of those who work overtime. If employers no longer have to pay time-and-a-half for overtime work, they will have an incentive to demand longer hours instead of creating more jobs, taking money from the pockets of middle-class working families. Protecting workers’ overtime is essential to job creation."