LCBO workers officially on strike

Unionized LCBO workers across Ontario walk off the job. Negotiations broke down overnight. Caryn Ceolin has the latest.

More than 9,000 LCBO workers have officially walked off the job after negotiations between the union that represents them and management failed and a deal was not reached by the deadline.

LCBO locations will be closed for at least two weeks as long as the strike is on, but bars and restaurants, along with licensed grocery stores and The Beer Store, will continue to receive wholesale orders.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) says workers will be picketing at retail locations and warehouses in Ontario Friday.

In a statement, the LCBO management say they are disappointed the leadership of the OPSEU has decided to initiate the first strike in their 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,” read their statement.

The major sticking point, according to the union, was the lack of job security as the province plans to open up the alcohol market to allow convenience stores and all grocery stores to sell beer, wine and ready-to-drink cocktails.

“If they come back with something that says the premier has called us and he’s ready to have a meaningful conversation about how we expand the public LCBO and what it looks like, a specific plan for the future of the LCBO that protects these jobs … we’re open to that conversation,” said OPSEU President JP Hornick on Thursday prior to the strike deadline.

“We’re looking for language that will protect these jobs and protect the future of the LCBO.”

After the strike deadline passed, OPSEU told CityNews they had seen “no indication of movement from the Ford government.” 

Hornick said the current plan could see thousands of jobs being lost along with millions of dollars in public revenue.

“The government has to provide a response that allows for the public LCBO to protect those jobs that would otherwise be lost with their current expansion plans,” said Hornick.

In a statement earlier in the day, LCBO management urged OPSEU to make a counterproposal to their latest offer that was given to the union at 4:20 p.m.

The latest offer included wage increases of 2.5 per cent in the first two years of the deal and two per cent in the third year, as well as a special adjustment for certain warehouse positions, the conversion of 400 casual employees to permanent full-time, and improved access to benefits for casual, part-time employees.

It also included Letters of Agreements to limit LCBO Convenience Outlets, limit contracting out and increasing the volume of product at warehouses serving retail outlets.

OPSEU’s Colleen MacLeod blamed Premier Doug Ford for the strike.

“We are certain that if we had been bargaining with our employer, not the premier, we would have reached a deal and the strike could’ve been avoided,” she said.

“Tonight, Ford’s dry summer begins.”

If a deal is not reached after two weeks, LCBO officials say 32 stores will then open for in-store shopping and operate three days a week (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) with limited hours in effect.

A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Finance said they’re disappointed that the OPSEU was heading toward an unnecessary strike, threatening summer plans, earlier on Thursday.

“We are particularly disappointed that OPSEU is opposed to giving people in Ontario the choice and convenience of buying readymade drinks, like coolers and seltzers, in grocery and convenience stores,” read their statement.

LCBO management confirmed that in the event of a strike, LCBO warehouses would remain operational.

“We’ve put measures in place across our inventory build, our warehouse operations, and our fulfillment approach that reflect the importance of beverage alcohol availability to our wholesale, especially during the busy summer months. Our priority is to ensure continued service and support our valued customers,” read a statement.

Hornick was asked if the LCBO going on strike proves the province’s point that there should be more options available to consumers.

“I would say that the union doesn’t control access to alcohol. A strike is the last resort of the exercise of workers power to demonstrate that we are serious about the points that we’re trying to make here. We are also in this to protect the public revenue,” Hornick responded.

The Ministry of Finance encouraged Ontarians to use the current other options available during a strike.

“We encourage people across Ontario to take advantage of the thousands of available options, including local breweries, wineries, cideries, distilleries, restaurants, bars, LCBO convenience outlets, grocery stores, and The Beer Store.”

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