June 23, 2017 8:00 am
Updated: June 23, 2017 5:47 pm

COMMENTARY: I worked at the LCBO for years. Despite what the union is telling you, employees have it made

LCBO employees could be striking as early as Monday.

Doug Ives / File / The Canadian Press
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Employees of the LCBO could be heading to the picket lines next week if an agreement isn’t reached between their union and the Crown corporation by Monday at 12:01 a.m.

As part of OPSEU’s public relations strategy while collective bargaining continues, the union has launched a website and ad campaign called LiqiLeaks, aimed at sharing the “real stories” of life at the LCBO.

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Unlike WikiLeaks, LiqiLeaks contains no bombshells or revelations of any kind — just gripes from employees who don’t seem to realize how good their situation really is.

The short video testimonies from 11 workers reveal the concerns OPSEU thinks are the most salable to the general public this time around—most of them focused on scheduling and hours.

It’s worth noting that Kathleen Wynne has already offered Ontario’s unionized public sector workers an unconditional 7.5 per cent raise, which both pleased and surprised OPSEU president Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas.

READ MORE: COMMENTARY: LCBO workers deserve fairness

Over half of the LiqiLeaks videos feature laments of lost family time due to job demands, with some even complaining about having to work over their family’s dinner hour. One of the subjects, Chris, somberly called his employment at the LCBO an “attack on the family.”

It’s not enough of an attack to cause him to work somewhere else, though.

Two stars broke down into tears during their minute-long videos. Step aside, Meryl Streep—the Oscar goes to…

WATCH BELOW: LCBO workers could strike ahead of Canada Day long weekend

All employees end their respective melodramas with some variation of “That’s the real story.”

With the strike deadline looming, I find myself getting nostalgic as OPSEU’s posturing ramps up to full gear; it’s all rhetoric I’ve heard before.

After all, I worked there for a number of years.

When I was 18 and in university, the LCBO was an attractive employer. The hourly pay was about 50 per cent above minimum wage, and the expectation of evening and weekend shifts matched what I was able to offer as a full-time student lacking a social life.

I worked with some wonderful people — many of whom I still count among my friends — but also saw quite plainly a mindset of entitlement and laziness in far too many of my colleagues.

READ MORE: Union sets up strike headquarters outside LCBO head office days before deadline

Like 84 per cent of the LCBO’s employees, I was classed as casual. Admittedly, it was feast or famine as far as scheduling was concerned. Shifts were as short as three-and-a-half hours, or as long as nine. There was no guarantee of hours whatsoever.

This was all explained to me when I was offered the job.

OPSEU claims it’s unfair that part-timers are not easily able to ascend to full-time. Absent from the messaging is that no one is promised anything otherwise from the company.

The LCBO was abundantly clear when hiring me that due to the seniority system (for which OPSEU bargained, incidentally) I would have to work there for as many as 10 years to even hope for full-time status.

WATCH BELOW: Hard liquor disappearing from LCBO shelves

Like most jobs of that nature, it wasn’t my plan to make a career out of it, lucrative as it could have been.

The problem with the LCBO’s employee culture lies in that even of those lucky ones who are full-time, few realize how good they have it.

Full-time ‘customer service representatives’— employees who work the floor and cash registers — earn as much as $57,459 per year under the current agreement. This is based on years of service rather than merit or qualifications.

When I worked there, it was, in practice, impossible for the company to fire employees for being terrible at their jobs. I saw several colleagues who balked and even cursed at customers receive disciplinary notices that amounted to merely sticky notes on the record.

Employees caught stealing alcohol aren’t fired — they get alcoholism treatment paid for by the LCBO, and by extension the Ontario taxpayers. One can even be a common thief, rather than an alcoholic, to qualify for this sweet deal.

READ MORE: Both sides brace for impact as LCBO work stoppage appears to be just days away

If a cashier is short on money at the end of the night, they only have to pay less than half of the shortage, with the government picking up the rest.

The union also bargained to let employees wear jeans to work and ditch the formerly mandatory uniform neckties. I guess they ran out of other things to ask for.

By the time I left the LCBO, I was making more than $20 per hour — as a cashier.

Was I worth it? I think so, but that doesn’t make it a realistic or sustainable wage in a job that almost anyone can do. Especially when LCBO product prices are higher than most private alternatives.

“There was a point in time where having a government job was a good thing,” said one of the LiqiLeaks-featured employees. “Now, having a government job feels like a bad joke.”

At least I can agree with them on something. Except the joke is on us.

That’s the real story of the LCBO.

Andrew Lawton is host of The Andrew Lawton Show on AM980 London and a commentator for Global News.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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