LCBO on strike in response to privatized alcohol sales

LCBO workers walk the picket line on Centre Street in Napanee. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

As of midnight last night, more than 9,000 Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) workers initiated the first strike in LCBO history.

As of July 5, 2024, the LCBO’s retail locations will be closed for 14 days, but online ordering remains available. Should the union remain on strike after the 14 days have elapsed, 32 LCBO retail stores will begin to re-open for in-store shopping and operate three days a week (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) with limited hours in effect, according to the LCBO.

There are 17 full-service LCBO locations locally in the Quinte, Lennox & Addington, Kingston, Frontenac, and Thousand Islands regions, the staff of which are likely taking to the picket lines.

The strike began after talks broke down at the bargaining table. According to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/SEFPO), which represents the workers, this round of bargaining is unlike any other.

OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick said, “Doug Ford wants to make life better for his wealthy friends. It’s why he’s wasting upwards of a billion dollars of our money to fast-track privatized alcohol sales and hand more of the public revenues generated by the LCBO over to the CEOs and big box grocery and convenience chains like Loblaws and Circle K.”

LCBO’s website states that it is “disappointed that the leadership of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) has decided to initiate the first strike in our long history… For the past several months, we have engaged in collective bargaining with OPSEU in hopes of reaching a fair and equitable agreement that addresses their considerations while ensuring the long-term sustainability of our operations. Despite our best efforts, we have not yet been able to do so.” The site also provided a link to details of LCBO’s proposal.

“This fight isn’t just about one workplace or one employer,” reads a message from OPSEU/SEFPO to its members. “This is a fight for our entire province and every public good we enjoy, be it health care, education, or infrastructure. Every year, the LCBO generates $2.5 billion in revenues, which help pay for these vital public services. Join us on the lines as we send a message to Doug Ford and his Conservative cronies that OPSEU/SEFPO is ready for this fight, and we will win.”

The union said in a news release that frontline LCBO workers are proud that the revenues they help generate go back to our communities. “We know that the LCBO is Ontario’s best kept secret – and we’re fighting to protect it,” said Colleen MacLeod, Chair of OPSEU/SEFPO’s Liquor Board Employees Division (LBED) and the bargaining team. “We’ve been very clear that we won’t back down in our fight for a strong future for the LCBO and the public services funded by LCBO revenues.”

According to the news release, throughout negotiations, the union proposed an alternative plan to Premier Ford’s ‘alcohol everywhere’ scheme and made it clear to Ford and the LCBO that they were ready to strike for it.

“We told Ford not to ruin everybody’s summer, but now he’s closed the [Ontario] Science Centre and forced a dry summer for Ontarians by refusing to offer a deal that would be good for LCBO workers and Ontario,” said Hornick.

OPSEU/SEFPO argued that the province should grow the LCBO to meet demand and increase convenience by opening more stores, increasing the hours of operation, and increasing warehousing, logistics, and e-commerce capacity. Doing this, they said, will also expand public revenues by increasing LCBO sales, helping to fund public services like health care, education, and key infrastructure.

LCBO workers walk the picket line in Napanee on Centre Street. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

“When you buy from the LCBO, including spirit-based ready-to-drink beverages, that should help build Ontario — not pay for a billionaire’s new yacht,” OPSEU/SEFPO argued in its release. “Our plan would also support good jobs at the LCBO and in our communities. Having more permanent part-time and permanent full-time job opportunities means greater product knowledge and even better customer service.”

Right now, the union explained, 70 per cent of LCBO workers are casual; in other words, they don’t have guaranteed hours, which means most do not have access to benefits or opportunities to move into permanent part-time and full-time positions. “We want a better future for our members, the LCBO, and Ontario.”

Kingstonist reached out to local Conservative MPP Ric Bresee, who represents Hastings – Lennox and Addington, for comment. No response was received by time of publication.

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