Wal-Mart Closure Touches Off Union Debate

Noella Langlois, who stocked shelves at the store.

hide captionNoella Langlois, who stocked shelves at the Jonquiere store, said she was opposed to the union because Wal-Mart provided good pay and benefits.

Frank Langfitt, NPR
Jean Tremblay serves as the mayor overseeing Jonquiere.

hide captionJean Tremblay serves as the mayor overseeing Jonquiere. "We don’t like Wal-Mart anymore," he says.

Frank Langfitt, NPR
Jessy Pothier works at the Wal-Mart in Chicoutimi, near Jonquiere.

hide captionJessy Pothier works at the Wal-Mart in nearby Chicoutimi. He says workers there are afraid if they tried to start a union, the company might close that store, too.

Frank Langfitt, NPR

Wal-Mart is closing a store in a small city in northern Quebec after employees recently voted to unionize. The decision has the blue-collar town — and the store's employees — divided over who's to blame.

Workers at the Jonquiere Wal-Mart unionized the store in 2004, becoming the company's only union store in North America. Last week, Wal-Mart closed it. Officials say the location wasn't making money. Opinions in the French-Canadian city range from those who love Wal-Mart's low prices to those who can't stand its labor practices.

Jonquiere has a reputation as a strong labor town, with about two in five workers belonging to unions. But some worry that publicity from the store's closure will make it harder for the city to attract outside business.

The store's closure is one of a growing a number of attempts to unionize America's largest company. The battle to do so now moves to St. Hyacinthe, east of Montreal. That's where another group of Wal-Mart workers won union recognition in January.

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