LCBO to extend hours ahead of potential union strike

As the LCBO prepares for unionized workers to walk off the job on July 5, the provincially run liquor store is extending store hours to allow customers to stock up.

Contract talks between the Crown corporation and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) have stalled over fundamental disagreements about the future of the LCBO and alcohol sales in Ontario.

The union, which received a 97 per cent strike mandate, will be in a legal strike position as of 12:01 a.m. on July 5, sparking a flurry of preparations ahead of impending job action.

Beginning June 27, all LCBO retail locations will open at 9:30 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. until July 4. Stores will still closed on Canada Day.

The LCBO has also indicated it has “measures in place to ensure continued customer service” but has yet to lay out whether managers would be asked to take over employee duties, how many stores could remain open, and whether sales and deliveries to bars and restaurants would continue in the event of a strike.

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Movement at the bargaining table

While unionized LCBO employees have begun preparing for the picket lines, the negotiating team has suggested that contract talks have progressed as a result of the strike vote, but issues persist.

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“We have seen movement on a few issues but both sides remain far apart on the fundamentals of what is at stake in this round of negotiations,” the union said in a bargaining update on Friday.

The main sticking point appears to be the Ford government’s deal with The Beer Store to allow convenience stores to sell beer, wine, ciders, and ready-to-drink beverages as of Sept. 5.

While the Ford government has been reluctant to share the revenue loss projections, OPSEU argues the deal would pare back LCBO profits, forcing the closure of stores and potential job losses.

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Workers at Ontario’s main liquor retailer have set a date to strike. A person walks past shelves of bottles of alcohol on display at an LCBO in Ottawa, Thursday March 19, 2020. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

OPSEU presented the LCBO with a number of demands which, the union believes, will help the liquor store compete with convenience and grocery stores. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario said that as of June 21, it has issued a total of 1,875 convenience store and 21 grocery store alcohol retail licences to retailers.

The union asked for expanded retail locations and hours to “meet demand and improve convenience,” increased LCBO warehousing and logistics, and bringing e-commerce capacity in-house.

On the product side, the union has asked the LCBO to keep “profitable products,” like spirits and ready-to-drink beverages, exclusively in LCBO stores.

The LCBO said the union’s “alternative model” is surprising, given the Ford government’s public moves toward liberalizing alcohol sales in the province.

“OPSEU has been aware of the Ontario Government’s plan to expand beverage alcohol sales, including ready-to-drink beverages, to convenience, grocery, and big box stores since December 2023,” the LCBO said on June 18.

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The LCBO said it’s hoping to reach a deal “that is fair to bargaining unit employees and helps the LCBO continue to operate effectively and efficiently for Ontario in a new marketplace.”

Mediation and last minute talks

Shortly after OPSEU held a news conference, on June 18, a third-party mediator joined the bargaining to help break the logjam.

The request for mediation came from the LCBO after the union held its strike votes and asked for a “no board” report — legal steps required before a union can withdraw services.

After ramping up the premier, the union reassured members that a deal is still within reach.

“Both parties feel strongly motivated to bargain seriously when the clock is ticking towards a strike deadline,” OPSEU said in a missive to members.

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The union said the two sides have bargaining dates scheduled for the week of July 1, giving them just four days to reach a deal before the deadline.

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