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Liquor Store workers strike back at Ford

Pam Johnson

July 8, 2024
Workers are on picket lines across the province trying to stop Doug Ford’s plan to privatize Ontario’s public liquor stores, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).
Instead of negotiating with the workers, Ford’s government shut down all LCBO stores for two weeks on the day the strike was to start.
For years it has been clear that Ford's goal is to smash the union so he can give huge profits to the corporations that will take over the distribution and sales of beer, wine and liquor.
He passed bill 124 which capped public sector workers wages—including for LCBO workers—during a time of unprecedented inflation. In February, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld an earlier decision that this legislation was unconstitutional.
He followed up that law with a series of measures designed to end both the LCBO and the Beer Store as they are today.
The biggest impact of this change will be on the jobs of unionized workers in both The Beer Store, organized in United Food and Commercial Workers Union(UFCW), and the LCBO, organized in the Ontario Public Services Employee Union(OPSEU).
Workers fight back
Workers at the LCBO voted overwhelmingly to strike if no agreement is reached in bargaining. It was an historic turnout of 86 percent of members; 97 percent voted to a strike.
One LCBO worker said, “We worked through the pandemic and only got a one percent wage increase for years. We have had enough.”
Another worker said, “This used to be a good job, we have been pushed to this by years of cuts.”
70 percent of LCBO workers are part-time casuals with no job security or benefits.
Along with better wages, LCBO workers demand more permanent full-time jobs and to improve permanent part-time jobs by including minimum guaranteed hours, sick days, vacation and benefits.
The LCBO brings in $2.5 billion to Ontario’s coffers. That money can be used for public services like healthcare and education. But Ford is committed to killing the golden goose to make his corporate friends richer. He has already started contracting out parts of the LCBO to the private sector.
The OPSEU union bulletin puts it succinctly: “When you buy a beer, that should help build a hospital—not pay for a billionaire’s new yacht.”
OPSEU president JP Hornick said, “Earlier this spring Ford promised he’d never sell the LCBO, yet he’s clearly trying to sell us all down the river with this move. Expanding private alcohol sales is just the latest scheme to transfer public funds into the pockets of CEOs and Ford’s friends while further gutting our public services.”
Beer Store
Ontario Premier Ford is fast-tracking his “alcohol everywhere” plan that will make beer, wine and cider available for sale at convenience, grocery, and big box stores starting in August.
The fast-track ends the deal that was negotiated by the previous Liberal government with the Beer Store private owners, including the giant corporate brewers like Molson.
Although this would appear to break up the monopoly of these corporate breweries, it is actually huge profit boost for the brewers and the giant grocery chains, like Loblaws—as the opposition parties are loudly pointing out.
The giant beer companies will not only have a new revenue stream from expanded beer sales, but they will get $225 million to “compensate” them for the early end of their monopoly.
Studies have shown that retail costs increase with privatization. A Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study, looking at sales figures from Saskatchewan and Alberta, found that prices went upunder privatized systems. 
The costs for the taxpayer may be even higher. Estimates are that Ford may have to spend as much as $1 billion to make his scheme work. Grocers will get a 10 percent discount on bulk purchases from the public LCBO, currently the sole distributor of wine and spirits—undercutting LCBO prices.
That’s hundreds of millions in the pockets of big brewers and grocery store chains that should go to fixing healthcare, education and other public services.
The 7,000 members of the UFCW local have begun a 'Save the Beer Store’ campaign stating, “These changes could lead to major job losses and higher beer prices for consumers, in addition to reduced product selection.”
Once again Ford is using beer—remember the buck-a-beer election promise— to distract from his destruction of public services and jobs, while lining the pockets of his corporate friends.
It is crucial that we support these workers on the picket lines. They are fighting for unionized jobs with benefits and they are fighting to save public services.
Strike down Ford - Victory to the workers!
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