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Wal-Mart Leaves Bitter Chill

"I think all the large unionized companies will look for cheaper labor in China or elsewhere," said Serge Janelle, 45, who lost his union job at a paper mill 16 months ago and is hoping to retrain as a truck driver. "We knew the power of the union was diminishing. We made concessions. But it wasn't enough."

Jonquiere residents chose sides. Immediately after the store announced it was closing, business plummeted in an unofficial boycott of Wal-Mart.

Rejan Lavoie is among those who blame union efforts for the store's closing. The single father says he worries he won't find another job with workable hours. (Doug Struck -- The Washington Post)

"It was so quiet in the store you could hear a fly," said Patrice Bergeron, 25, whose task of restocking the refrigerated food section dropped from 10 times a day to once, he said.

The announcement deepened animosities among the employees. Those who liked their jobs and said they were happy at Wal-Mart are bitter at the union for its tactics, which they blame for the store closure.

"We were duped by the union. There was absolutely no need to unionize," said Rejan Lavoie, 40, a single father who took a job as a department manager at Wal-Mart to be home in the evenings with his 8-year-old son. He fears he will not find another job with a workable schedule.

At its headquarters on the outskirts on Jonquiere, the union is organizing a drive to find jobs for the Wal-Mart union supporters and to provide them with financial assistance.

"We weren't asking for the moon," said Bergeron, who spent two years quietly contacting fellow employees at their homes to enlist them in the union. "It's the largest and richest company in the world. They could afford to improve conditions. We only wanted to be treated like human beings."

Sylvie Lavoie, 40, said she is unsure how, as a single mother, she will support herself and her 10-year-old daughter after the store closes. But the backup cashier, who earns $7.55 an hour, said she does not regret joining the union drive.

"We can't regret trying to make our lives better," she said at the union hall. "I don't know what I'll do, but I know my daughter will be proud of me."

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