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Wal-Mart Chief Defends Closing Unionized Store

Scott said Wal-Mart has been slow to reach out to its critics, which include individuals with Web sites and petitions as well as national unions with million-dollar budgets and strong political ties.

Three weeks ago, Wal-Mart began a campaign to tell community and elected leaders about its operations and policies. The initiative, which began last month with full-page advertisements in more than 100 major U.S. newspapers, will even extend into Wal-Mart's stores.

Scott said he has asked managers to take state leaders on tours of their local stores with the goal of "humanizing" the chain. But while Wal-Mart ramps up its public relations machine, it is taking pains to avoid appearing "slick," Scott said.

"We don't want to be used-car salesmen," he said. "We want real people who can tell the Wal-Mart story. If people don't like us, they don't like us, but at least they have heard the story."

Scott, who has worked at Wal-Mart since 1979 and became chief executive of the 3,000-store chain in 2000, said he has studied how major companies in the tobacco, beer and petroleum industries have weathered intense criticism.

Wal-Mart has fought efforts to unionize its stores in the United States and Canada, and Scott yesterday said that third-party representation of workers is unnecessary.

"If you are listening to your associates and you are doing the right thing, I'm not sure why people would want someone to represent them," he said.

The union at the Quebec store was certified by Quebec Labor Relations Commission last year after the UFCW submitted union cards signed by a majority of the store's workers. Negotiators from the chain and the union met over three months to discuss a contract, but reached as impasse last week. The UFCW sought binding arbitration.

One major sticking point in the talks, according to both sides, was how many full-time employees Wal-Mart would have to hire to operate the store.

Scott yesterday said that it was the union, not Wal-Mart, that walked away from the negotiations. He said Wal-Mart had planned to continue the talks.

Fraser said the labor commission granted the union's request for arbitration shortly before Wal-Mart said it would close the store and thinks Wal-Mart feared a decision. "We were simply following the normal process," Fraser said. "The final collective agreement would be up to the arbitrator, not us."

Staff writer Amy Joyce contributed to this report.

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