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Ontario group says LCBO strike would hurt restaurants still recovering from pandemic

Click to play video: 'LCBO union set to strike early July'
LCBO union set to strike early July
WATCH: LCBO union set to strike early July – Jun 18, 2024

Bars and restaurants in Ontario are bracing for the impacts of a potential LCBO strike if it goes ahead in July, with one industry group saying industrial action could impact the delivery of wine and spirits for businesses still recovering from the pandemic.

Unionized liquor store workers are less than three weeks away from a potential strike if a deal cannot be reached in mediator-led talks between the union and the LCBO.

On Tuesday, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) announced it had been granted a no-board report by the Ministry of Labour, as negotiations with the LCBO stall. Its members voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action just days earlier.

The no-board report triggers a 17-day countdown to put the union in a legal strike position by July 5. Union leaders underscored on Tuesday that if they didn’t have a deal thrashed out with the LCBO by then, they would walk off the job.

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Tony Elenis, the president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, told Global News many bars and restaurants fear a strike would put them in a precarious position.

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“Our core product still is at the LCBO and it is critical that this strike doesn’t go through (and that) there is a contingency to be able to distribute to licensees,” he said.

Many businesses rely on regular orders dictated by cash flow and do not have a large stockpile of alcohol if deliveries were to be disrupted, Elenis added.

A spokesperson for the LCBO would not comment on how a strike would impact its delivery network to bars and restaurants. Nor would it explain what contingencies, if any were being worked out.

“Should a strike occur, LCBO has measures in place to ensure continued customer service, ” a spokesperson told Global News.

The union said in a statement that a strike will “undoubtedly cause disruption — the full extent of which we don’t know yet.”

Elenis said that some drinks can be bought in other ways, but the LCBO is the only source of liquor and the main source of wine. Local Ontario wineries are able to deliver directly to restaurants, he said, while The Beer Store and individual breweries would also still be able to supply them.

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“LCBO is the wholesaler for the majority of the product,” he said.

Talks between OPSEU and the LCBO will continue through this week, with more dates available next week.

A key sticking point, however, could be the Ford government’s impending liberalization of alcohol sales in the province.

Beginning in August, the government will roll out a phased liberalization of alcohol sales in Ontario, allowing convenience and grocery stores to sell wine, beer and pre-mixed drinks. OPSEU leaders made it clear they fear the changes will lead to job losses at the LCBO and are a key sticking point in talks.

“We’re looking to ensure our job security language is strong, we’re also looking for an alternate model for alcohol sales in the province… and it doesn’t include having alcohol everywhere,” Colleen MacLeod, leader of OPSEU’s liquor board employees local, said on Tuesday.

Any strike which led to supply issues could hurt restaurants still struggling with the long-term effects of the pandemic

“Alcohol is very critical to our restaurant (industry’s) success,” Elenis explained.

“Restaurants continue to recover from COVID-19, believe it or not, and many of them are continually struggling. So we need the LCBO to stay open and supply us with booze. It is very, very important.”

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