WILLIAMS LAKE, British Columbia (FNS) -- In its 120-store invasion of Canada, Wal-Mart is sidestepping union labor much the way it has in the United States. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant earlier this year bought 122 of Canada's 142 Woolco stores, and the 20 rejected units included the seven that the United Food and Commercial Workers union had succeeded in unionizing.
Wal-Mart's 2,000-plus U.S. outlets have also managed to avoid union labor.
The Woolco purchase price was not disclosed, but Woolworth reportedly has estimated the sale will generate about $300 million (U.S.) in cash. "We offered all the stores, but they didn't take those [seven] and some others," said Woolco Marketing Manager John Berrington. Woolco employees in Williams Lake, whose store was one of the unionized seven spurned by Wal-Mart, have held a decertification vote that a union official labeled a "blatant attempt to get the store included in the Wal-Mart deal." "We're telling members it's the wrong time to divest themselves of their bargaining rights," Brookes Sundin, president of UFCW Local 1518, said in an interview. "There's no guarantee Wal-Mart will pick up the store." In fact, Wal-Mart public relations coordinator Betsy Reithmeyer said there is little chance Wal-Mart will buy additional Woolco stores.
Meanwhile, analysts predict Wal-Mart will probably double Woolco's sales per square foot within a year.
"In a decade, Wal-Mart will become Canada's leading retailer if they perform as they have in the States," said Toronto-based consultant John Williams.
Other observers predict Wal-Mart will convert some of the Woolco stores to either its Sam's Club or supercenter format. Price/Costco, another club operator, has about 37 units in Canada, and expects to open 10 more, observers said.