Labour Studies Index

The Sky is Not Falling: Unionization, Wal-Mart and First Contract Arbitration in Canada

Document type Article
Author Cuillerier, Joelle
Author Murray, Gregor
Journal Just Labour: A Canadian Journal of Work and Society
Volume 15
Date 2009 November
Pages 78-98


The conflict between property rights and the right of association creates the case for various policy avenues to ensure that employees have effective access to the right to associate for the purposes of collective bargaining. One such labour policy in Canada is first-contract arbitration. The experience of this policy in Quebec over the last three decades has achieved key objectives: ensuring first agreements for newly unionized workers, developing constructive bargaining relationships and overcoming what can be a major obstacle to an effective right to associate. After reviewing this experience, this article provides an overview of the unionization campaigns resulting in union certifications for the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada in six Wal-Mart facilities in Quebec province over the last six years. It then examines two recent cases of first-contract arbitration for these certifications. In one case, the company summarily closed the department concerned after the first contract was awarded. In the second case, the store remains open, with an operative collective agreement. Absent a policy of first-contract arbitration, it appears unlikely that this would be the case. The evolution of the bargaining relationship beyond the first-contract will provide a key test of the relative efficacy of Canadian policy approaches to ensure the freedom of association.