All LCBO stores are closed on Friday as thousands of workers hit the picket lines after their union and employer failed to reach an agreement.


The strike is the first in LCBO’s history. The Crown corporation has previously announced that its 669 retail stores will not open in the event of a job action.


In a statement after the 12:01 a.m. deadline passed without a deal, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) said it was disappointed with the leadership of the the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents more than 9,000 employees, for initiating the historic strike.


“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 Crown corporation said.


“We remain hopeful that we can quickly reach an agreement that is fair to our employees, while enabling the LCBO’s continued success in a changing marketplace.”


Hours before the 12:01 a.m. deadline, OPSEU announced that bargaining talks had broken down and that it was not hopeful that an agreement would be reached.


“Tonight, (Premier Doug) Ford’s dry summer begins,” Colleen MacLeod, the chair of the bargaining team, told reporters at a news conference on Thursday evening.


“We have been very clear that we will not back down in our fight for a strong future for the LCBO and the public services funded by LCBO revenues.”


After two weeks, on July 19, if workers are still on strike, the LCBO said just 32 stores will open provincewide for in-store shopping. However, they will only operate on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with “limited hours in effect.”


The LCBO noted that customers can still purchase alcohol online through its website and mobile app for free home delivery during the potential strike. However, it warned that a reasonable cap on products will be instituted.


“We understand that a strike is disruptive. We encourage everyone who is feeling frustrated to call on Ford and tell him not to ruin the summer and get back to the LCBO bargaining table with a meaningful commitment to a strong future for the LCBO,” MacLeod said.


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


Talks have been centred on the Ford government’s expansion of alcohol sales to convenience stores. The union said it is not against the policy, but at the same time, the province has not made any guarantees that the LCBO and its employees won’t be affected by the expansion.


“We see this as an existential crisis for the LCBO,” OPSEU’s JP Hornick said. “Do we want to have a public provider of alcohol as we’ve had for the past 100 years? Or are we just moving into a Wild West private model?”


When asked if Ontarians should prepare for a long strike, MacLeod said: “It’s up to Doug. This is Doug’s dry summer.”


“We need everybody to understand that this is about our futures, and this is about our jobs,” she added.


LCBO, government responds


In response to OPSEU’s news conference, the LCBO called on the union to counter its latest offer and work with the Crown corporation to get an agreement and avoid a strike.


The LCBO said its offer was presented to the union at 4:20 p.m. and believed that it responded to several of the workers’ demands, including job security and wage increases.


The offer would also see 400 casual employees converted to permanent full-time, improved access to benefits for casual part-time workers, improvements to provisions and letters of agreement to limit LCBO Convenience Outlets, limit contracting out and increase the volume of product at warehouse serving outlets.


“We further invited OPSEU to discuss with us any additional issues that could be addressed in the collective agreement, including job security. We also invited OPSEU to make a counterproposal,” the Crown corporation said in its statement. “Thus far they refused to counter and instead held a news conference criticizing the government’s plans to sell RTD (ready-to-drink) beverages in convenience and grocery stores.”


The LCBO reiterated that its warehouses will remain operational during the strike, saying that it has robust contingency plans that would allow them to take and fulfill wholesale orders.


“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 for our valued customers,” the LCBO said.


The province said it was disappointed by the union’s decision to walk away from the bargaining table before the deadline and urged representatives to return to the table.


“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 a statement from Office of Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy.


“In the meantime, 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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