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LCBO workers take one step closer to possible strike

A Canadian flag flies near a LCBO store in Bowmanville, Ontario on Saturday July 20, 2013.
A Canadian flag flies near a LCBO store in Bowmanville, Ontario on Saturday July 20, 2013. Doug Ives / File / The Canadian Press

Staff at LCBO stores across Ontario are one step closer to walking off the job as labour tensions ramp up between the union representing 7,500 workers and the liquor board’s management team.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union applied for a “no board” report from the Ministry of Labour Monday after LCBO staff voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate in April.

A strike or lockout is possible just before the long Canada Day weekend if both parties fail to resolve their differences on the 17th day after a no board report has been issued.

“With this particular employer, the only time they get serious about bargaining is after you take that step,” Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the OPSEU, told AM640 Tuesday morning. “But that brings in a mediator, conciliator who works hard with both parties to try to get them a deal.”

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READ MORE: LCBO workers deliver overwhelming strike vote

At the heart of the labour dispute is pay equity, which Thomas said is being stifled due to the proliferation of part-time work.

“We want equal pay for equal work for part-timers doing the exact same work as full-timers,” Thomas said. “So the employer’s response is to seek a whole bunch of concessions mostly from full-time workers to offset that very minimal cost of equal pay for equal work.”

The union says 82 per cent of LBCO workers are part-timers with many working around four hour shifts, seven days a week with an annual salary of $8,000 to $14,000 a year.

“Maybe they can work three days and get those hours and then find another part-time job so they can make enough money to live on,” Thomas said.

Commentary: LCBO strike? Really?

Thomas added he expects the labour negotiations to go right up to the deadline, claiming it helps boost sales for the provincially run alcohol distributor.

“Management love the run-up to the strike deadline because the sales, they set records. Which I think is rather, that’s just a sinister move on their part to increase sales,” he said.

Although the public can purchase beer at select grocery stores across the province in the event of a strike or lockout, Thomas said the booze could soon run out as the LCBO are the suppliers.

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Still, the union said the public shouldn’t fear any lack of access to their beloved alcoholic beverages as LCBO staff have never hit the picket lines in their history.

READ MORE: LCBO staff set to hold strike vote later this month

“There’s always been a deal in the past, there’s never been a strike,” Thomas said. “So fingers crossed that we can get the employer to come to their senses and get a deal.”

LCBO staff have been without a contract since it expired on March 31.