OTTAWA — Canada's highest court has sided with workers who lost their jobs when Walmart shut down a Quebec store during a union drive in 2005.
In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled Walmart violated Article 59 of the Quebec Labour Code by shutting down its Saguenay, Que., store during talks to hammer out a collective agreement.
The high court ruling opens the door for an arbitrator to determine whether the American multinational will have to pay compensation to nearly 200 workers who lost their jobs.
"Given that the employer cannot be ordered to continue operating or to reopen its business, the arbitrator can order it to compensate the employees whose rights have been violated," the majority decision says.
Walmart argued it was within its rights to close the Saguenay store because it was unprofitable.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) earned certification at the outlet in September 2004, but couldn't reach a contract agreement with the retail giant.
The union sought to put the matter to arbitration, but Walmart then announced the shutdown.
The workers went to a Quebec labour tribunal and argued they had lost their jobs because of their union activities. The labour tribunal dismissed one worker's complaint but allowed a second, separate complaint from four other workers. The Quebec Court of Appeal later threw out that second decision.
UFCW spokesman Paul Meinema said Friday's ruling sends a message that "no one is above the law."
"Year after year, Walmart uses dirty tricks to stop its associates from exercising their democratic right to join a union, and that's exactly what happened with the employees at the (Saguenay) store," Meinema said in a statement.
Walmart director of corporate affairs Alex Robertson told QMI Agency the company acted legally.
"We are disappointed because this appeal followed a unanimous decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal to reject the union's challenge that we believe, was a challenge of a legally justified decision," Robertson wrote in am e-mail.
It's not the first time Walmart has lost a union case in Canada.
In October 2010, a Saskatchewan judge ruled Walmart employees had the right to union representation.
Some Walmart workers in other parts of the country are unionized, including those in Gatineau and Saint-Hyacinthe, Que.