Tense start to negotiations between LCBO workers and Ford government

Click to play video: 'LCBO workers call for job security ahead of contract talks'
LCBO workers call for job security ahead of contract talks
RELATED: As the Ontario government looks to expand alcohol sales in other retail locations, the union representing LCBO workers says it wants assurance that its workers have job security in their next agreement. Matthew Bingley reports. – Mar 12, 2024

Battlelines are being drawn as negotiations for a new contract between the Ford government and workers at LCBO stores get underway.

The first meeting between the government and liquor store workers was preceded by a province-wide day of action by workers, with rallies in 11 Ontario towns.

As part of the day of action, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) suggested the province could privatize the LCBO or stop parts of it from remaining public.

The union claimed a long-planned move to allow beer to be sold in convenience stores from 2026 was part of a broader strategy that would see liquor stores sold off.

“We’re not going to stand by while Doug Ford puts that money into the pockets of big box grocery store CEOs,” Colleen MacLeod, chair of the LCBO employees bargaining team, previously said in a statement.

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“We’re going to fight him every step of the way.”

The government quickly — and repeatedly — denied the accusation, saying it had no plans whatsoever to sell off the LCBO or its delivery infrastructure.

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Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy reiterated that he had no intention of selling off the LCBO on Tuesday.

“I can’t really comment on negotiations but I will say we’re not privatizing the LCBO. The premier’s been clear, I’m clear: we’re not privatizing the LCBO,” he said.

“But we can’t stick in 1927 when the LCBO came into force. We gotta move forward. People want convenience and choice and competition, we campaign on that … and now we’re getting it done with the LCBO and with the Beer Store and with all stakeholders because that’s what people want.”

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said her party would protect liquor stores long-term, suggesting the government had broken promises in the past.

“We’ve seen them say one thing one day and hint at another thing another day,” she said Tuesday. “I will tell you we in the NDP will always stand with those workers, those are good jobs, important jobs and we believe that the LCBO needs to remain public.”

The first round of negotiations between the union and the LCBO began on March 13, the union said, with the two sides trading opening positions and proposals.

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No longer allowing employees hired before 2001 to decline work on Sundays is one of the potential changes the government is considering.

It also proposed to have casual employees lose seniority and be deemed to no longer work for the LCBO if they’re absent without leave for more than 10 days.

The union, in its proposals, included embedding hybrid work for those who can in the collective agreement and ensuring a career path within the Crown corporation for fixed-term employees.

LCBO employees represented by the union were also among the public workers impacted by Bill 124, the controversial wage-restraint legislation that was officially repealed last month.

The now-repealed law capped public sector wages at one per cent per year for three years.

The union and province recently agreed to arbitration, and OPSEU said the arbitrator awarded its members a 6.5 per cent retroactive wage increase spread over three years.

Future negotiations are set for dates in April, May, June and July.

— with files from Global News’ Jacquelyn LeBel

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