LCBO workers to strike July 5 if no deal reached: union

Workers at Ontario's primary liquor retailer are in a legal position to strike as of July 5, if the union representing the employees does not reach a deal with the company.

At a news conference Tuesday, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), representing nearly 10,000 LCBO workers, said that the no-board report it requested from the Ontario Ministry of Labour on Thursday has been granted. That starts a 17-day countdown to when the union is in legal strike position.

"We've been meeting with LCBO since March and they're not listening ... so something's got to give," said Colleen McLeod, chair of OPSEU'S Liquor Board Employees Division.

"So far, the LCBO has refused to negotiate with us in any meaningful way. They have not engaged with any of our proposals."

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) workers are seeking wage increases and more full-time jobs, saying part-time roles have become 70 per cent of their workforce.

The union said its workers are set to strike as of 12:01 a.m. on July 5, if no agreement is reached between the two parties.

"We chose this day because we did not want to impact the first long weekend of the summer," McLeod said.

OPSEU announced over the weekend that 97 per cent of workers, who took part in a four-day vote, were in favour of strike action if necessary.

It said the vote marked a record turnout for the union, with 86 per cent of members taking part — translating to some 8,060 LCBO employees.

In its latest statement Tuesday, LCBO management said it does not want a strike to occur.

"OPSEU agreed to LCBO's request for the appointment of a mediator, and we continue to meet the union at the bargaining table this week and have dates set to continue negotiations in July," its latest statement reads.

"Our focus remains on reaching an agreement that is fair to our unionized staff and allows the LCBO to operate effectively and efficiently for the province in a new marketplace."

Colleen McLeod, chair of OPSEU'S Liquor Board Employees Division, left, said LCBO workers are ready to strike on July 5 if no agreement is reached with employer. McLeod was joined by OPSEU President J.P. Hornick, right.
Colleen McLeod, chair of OPSEU'S Liquor Board Employees Division, left, said workers are ready to strike on July 5 if no agreement is reached with their employer, the LCBO. McLeod was joined by OPSEU President J.P. Hornick, right. (Radio-Canada)

The LCBO has said it will ensure continued customer service during a work stoppage.

The union delivered a notice to bargain in January ahead of the March 31 expiration of its collective agreement with the LCBO.

Workers fearful of job losses following alcohol sales expansion

OPSEU President J.P. Hornick says workers are fearful of job losses after Premier Doug Ford's government announced plans to open up the alcohol market to allow convenience stores and all grocery stores to sell beer, wine and ready-to-drink cocktails.

"We see the big-box Ontario that Ford is trying to build where everything, even our healthcare and education, will make corporations and CEOs richer. And to that, we say hell no," Hornick said at the Tuesday news conference.

"If the government doesn't want a hot [and] dry summer then they need to look at an alternate plan that keeps the convenience, that doesn't roll back on expansion but just makes sure that it's done in a way that is responsible, that protects public money and that protects good jobs," Hornick said.

The Ontario government recently expanded rules surrounding the private sale of alcohol in the province through a phased approach.

In May, Ford announced that licensed grocery stores that currently sell beer, cider and wine would be able to also sell ready-to-drink cocktails and large-pack sizes as of Aug. 1.

After Sept. 5, eligible convenience stores will be able to sell beer, cider, wine and ready-to-drink cocktails, and after Oct. 31, all grocery stores and big box stores could sell those products, including large-pack sizes.

A spokesperson for the finance ministry, which is responsible for the LCBO, said the potential job action would hurt customers.

"It's disappointing that OPSEU could be heading toward an unnecessary strike that threatens people's ability to enjoy their summers," said Colin Blachar, press secretary for Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, in a statement Sunday.

Over time, the government said its changes to the alcohol sales landscape will add up to 8,500 new places where people in Ontario can buy alcohol.

OPSEU held a "day of action" earlier this year opposing the government's approach, saying workers "know exactly how the Ford government is selling off the work of the LCBO to private warehouses [and] off-site companies."

McLeod said Tuesday the union has a total of eight bargaining dates scheduled with the LCBO, ahead of the strike deadline.

"The hope is that we get a deal," she said.