LCBO strike shows no sign of abating

LCBO workers strike has halted deliveries and prompted new online order system amid government expansion plans

LCBO strike shows no sign of abating

The union representing Ontario liquor store workers has intensified its efforts in a five-day-old strike, with no negotiations planned, according to the Financial Post

Thousands of Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) employees began striking on Friday, prompting the LCBO to close its stores across the province for two weeks.   

In Mississauga, several dozen workers picketed an LCBO distribution centre, delaying delivery trucks on Tuesday.  

“We are slowing the flow of vehicles in and out of the LCBO facility on this property so that their ability to get orders out is reduced,” said Patricia Roode, a customs clerk in the LCBO’s transportation division. Roode indicated that similar actions are taking place at other distribution centres.   

In response, the LCBO has employed temporary workers to fulfil warehouse orders. The Crown corporation had intended to open five distribution centres this week to supply alcohol to restaurants, bars, hotels, convention centres, and other licensees.  

However, due to picketing, the LCBO now plans to offer online ordering for smaller orders instead. “In light of OPSEU threats to picket these locations, we have made the decision to offer an alternative online experience for smaller orders,” the LCBO stated.   

The union argues that Premier Doug Ford’s plan to expand the alcohol sales market threatens LCBO jobs and will lead to significant job losses. The union opposes the sale of ready-to-drink cocktails outside LCBO stores, demands job guarantees, wage increases, and more permanent positions.  

Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy affirmed the government’s commitment to alcohol expansion to provide Ontarians with more choice and convenience.   

The LCBO’s last contract offer included wage increases and the conversion of several hundred part-time jobs to full-time positions. “The LCBO did not want a strike, and we apologize for the inconvenience to our wholesale customers,” the corporation said.  

Nonetheless, the union insists that the core issue is Ford’s policy to open up alcohol sales, which it wants to see changed.   

The expansion plan's first phase is set to begin within a month, allowing grocery stores that already sell beer and wine to sell ready-to-drink cocktails.  

On September 5, convenience stores will be able to sell beer, wine, cider, and ready-to-drink cocktails. Nearly 3,000 convenience stores have already signed up to sell alcohol.   

Roode, the striking LCBO worker, expressed concern over the pace of these changes. “We want it to be slowed down or done in a way that maintains the benefit to the people of Ontario rather than throwing money out the window.” 

The government maintains that it does not intend to privatize the LCBO but aims to give people more choices and convenience. Ford has stated it is time “to treat people like adults.”   

The LCBO remains a major revenue source for the province, generating approximately $2.5bn in 2022-23, or about $159 per person.  

Bethlenfalvy, in a letter to Carmine Nigro, chairperson of the LCBO board, emphasized that LCBO revenues and government dividends have continued to grow.  

This growth has occurred despite expanding alcohol sales to new retail stores and allowing bars and restaurants to sell alcohol with takeout and delivery. “The evidence is clear: you can provide more choice while still generating revenue to invest in front-line government services.”   

Bethlenfalvy directed the LCBO to showcase and promote Ontario beer, wine, spirits, and ciders as part of the expansion. On Monday, Ford released a video with an interactive map to show people where they can buy alcohol outside the LCBO.   

The LCBO’s online system for selling alcohol during the strike has faced challenges. “There are challenges with the online ordering system, but the LCBO is aware and is working to correct it,” said Kris Barnier, a vice-president at Restaurants Canada. “The top products have been challenging to get.”   

Despite the strike, Ontario’s restaurants and bars are managing, although Barnier acknowledges the tense situation. "We’ll see how it goes if the strike goes on much longer," he said.  

The LCBO is making “every effort” to ensure customers can find what they want online. “We have planned for an increase in inventory and ask for customers’ patience as we continue to stock up on favourite items,” it stated.