Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, union spar over arbitration recommendation

Click to play video: 'Manitoba government union president speaks out against pressure from employer bargaining unit'
Manitoba government union president speaks out against pressure from employer bargaining unit
Manitoba Government Employees Union president Kyle Ross commented on developments at the bargaining table during the Manitoba Liquor Mart employees' strike on Tuesday. "The employer's side released one tabled proposal to the media without consulting us and we believe there are more issues to discuss," Ross said – Aug 15, 2023

The union representing striking Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MBLL) employees says no formal recommendation to go to the bargaining table has been made despite what the Crown corporation claims.

On Monday afternoon MBLL released a statement saying a conciliator recommended the two parties move to binding arbitration to end the work stoppage, which entered its second week of full-scale job action.

In their release MBLL said the Crown corporation agreed to binding arbitration, but Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU) president Kyle Ross said no such discussions were had.

“There isn’t a solution on the table. The employer went to the media without even consulting with us,” he said during an MGEU rally at the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature building Tuesday.

“There’s lots of parameters and to be discussed, it’s not something we’re going to jump into willy-nilly.”

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Ross said the independent conciliator never formally recommended arbitration, only floated it as an idea and the press release issued by MBLL was a “Hail Mary” signifying the employer has run out of options.

“They should have confirmed with us and consulted with us before they released that to the media. That’s what we would have done. That’s what a good partner does … and they don’t really feel like a partner enough,” he said.

MBLL president Gerry Sul maintains both parties were at the table when the conciliator made their recommendation.

“We were both there to hear the recommendation by the conciliator to advance to the binding arbitration,” Sul told Global News, adding negotiation is the only way to end the strike.

“Whether you go to binding arbitration now or you wait another 30 days, the roads all lead to the same place.”

Approximately 1,400 MGEU employees have staged job action since mid-July and declared a full strike when the Crown corporation announced it would close most Manitoba Liquor Marts to ensure smooth operation of stores that could remain open.

The union is asking for raises of 3.3 per cent in 2023 and 3.6 per cent in 2024 and 2025, the same as Premier Heather Stefanson and her cabinet are slated to earn.

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Adam King, assistant professor of labour studies at University of Manitoba, said there will unlikely be any movement from the employer or union before legislation mandates binding negotiations after 60 days of strike action.

“If you send something like wage increases to arbitration, it essentially takes the member’s voice out of it. They no longer have a vote on the final outcome. It’s the arbitrators outcome that determines the wage increase, not the members,” he said.

King said the Crown corporation’s use of replacement workers likely won’t fare well in trying to get the union to come to the bargaining table, either.

“It tends to be the case that the use of replacement workers prolongs strikes, creates further tension on picket lines and has the potential to really sour collective bargaining relationships going forward. So it was very unfortunate to see the employer resort to the use of replacement workers in this instance,” he said.

Replacement workers have been manning stores since full strike action began in stores. Employees are being offered $20/hour, a higher wage than what the union is asking for.

Sul said MBLL doesn’t decide what replacement workers make, and factors such as a lack of health coverage and other benefits is taken into account when contractors decide on an hourly pay rate.

When asked if the union would push to make this an election issue, the union president said the issue has nothing to do with the election.

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“These workers have no interest in the election. They have interest getting a fair deal where they can support their families,” Ross said.

– with files from Rosanna Hempel

Click to play video: 'Manitoba government union president speaks out against pressure from employer bargaining unit'
Manitoba government union president speaks out against pressure from employer bargaining unit

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