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TORONTO -- Wal-Mart Canada Corp. says it closed its store in Jonquiere, Que. a week earlier than expected because it ran out of merchandise, not because it was running away from the union.
The store had been automatically certified by the Quebec Labour Relations Board last year. In October, Wal-Mart Canada, a unit of retailing-giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said the store wasn't profitable.
After negotiating with the United Food and Commercial Workers union, the company determined in February it could not operate the store "efficiently and profitably."
Although it announced plans to close the store May 6, it ended up shutting the location at noon last Friday. Employees were informed about an hour before, said Wal-Mart Canada spokesman Kevin Groh.
Groh said the closing date had always been flexible, as the company intended to run the store until it no longer made sense. "There was a handful of merchandise remaining," Groh told Dow Jones.
He acknowledged there was some surprise on the part of the workers, but he said Wal-Mart promised they would be employed until May 6, and they will be fully paid until that date.
The union had its own opinion of the early closure. "Wal-Mart's decision to sneak out of town early was no surprise," said Michael Fraser, national director of UFCW Canada, in a release. "Every bully is a coward and Wal-Mart was afraid if they waited till next week, the media and outraged local citizens would be there for the closing."
It also noted the closure comes days after the labor board ruled it would consider a union application to force Wal-Mart to keep the store open until rulings on a series of unfair labor practice charges were issued.
Groh responded the company had been winding down the business, and while some merchandise had been shipped in the last few weeks, products sold out faster than expected. "It makes no sense to operate a shell of a store," he said.
Although the store is now empty of people and products, first contract arbitration between Wal-Mart and the union for the Jonquiere store is scheduled to commence May 11.
Contract negotiations are also ongoing for Quebec's other unionized Wal-Mart store, located in Saint-Hyacinthe.