LCBO stores closed as Ontario-wide strike begins |

LCBO stores closed as Ontario-wide strike begins  |

The first LCBO strike in the history of Ontario has begun, marking the closure of government-run liquor stores across the province.

Talks between the Crown agency and the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU) broke down on Thursday evening, with the sale of pre-mixed drinks at corner and grocery stores a key sticking point between the two sides.

The breakdown in talks meant no deal could be reached by the strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. on Friday, with some 9,000 LCBO workers walking off the job.

Click to play video: 'LCBO stores close as workers take part in historic 1st strike'

LCBO stores close as workers take part in historic 1st strike

As a result, LCBO stores across Ontario will be closed for at least two weeks — or until a deal is reached. If a deal is not reached by July 19, 32 stores across the province will open for limited hours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

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The Beer Store, local breweries and wineries as well as the LCBO’s online delivery services will remain open even during the strike.

The LCBO said on Friday morning that “we remain hopeful that we can quickly reach an agreement” with the union.

Click to play video: 'LCBO negotiations latest with hours to go until strike deadline'

LCBO negotiations latest with hours to go until strike deadline

The provincial agency added it is “committed to maintaining the highest standards of service that we can during this challenging time.”

“We have implemented contingency plans to help minimize disruption as much as possible and ensure that our products remain available to our valued retail and wholesale customers,” the LCBO said.

“We will be operating our business, but it is not business as usual.”

At a press conference on Thursday, OPSEU leaders blamed Ontario Premier Doug Ford for the strike — accusing him of allowing public profits from the LCBO to be given to other, private interests.

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“Ford’s happy to give away Ontario’s crown jewel,” OPSEU president JP Hornick said.

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“LCBO workers have come forward in their thousands to say that we will not stand by while this government throws away Ontarians’ money and gives it to billionaires and CEOs.”

In a statement Thursday evening, the government said it was “disappointed” talks had broken down, refusing to back away from its plans to liberalize alcohol sales.

“We are more committed than ever to fulfilling our promise of choice and convenience by expanding access to beer, cider, wine, and ready-to-drink beverages in convenience, grocery, and big-box stores starting later this summer,” the government said.

“We urge OPSEU to return to the negotiating table and work towards a deal that prioritizes Ontario consumers and producers.”

On Friday, the government released LCBO sales figures claiming that ready-to-drink products — the wider sale of which is the key sticking point at the bargaining table — make up 9.1 per cent of all sales at provincial liquor stores.

LCBO workers went on strike beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 5, 2024.

Adam Dabrowski / Global News

After talks ended, the LCBO published details of its latest offer to the union, which officials said was tabled at 4:20 p.m. on Thursday.

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The Crown corporation had pitched a seven per cent pay increase for workers over three years, moving 400 workers from casual to full-time and increasing benefit access for casual employees.

The offer also included expanded shift ranges for some, improved severance pay and an agreement to limit contracting out.

The issue, however, is less about salary and more about how provincial policy could impact future jobs, according to the union.

“We haven’t even got to the wages and benefits portion of it — and let’s be clear, it’s not about wages, this is not what it’s about,” OPSEU bargaining chair Colleen MacLeod said on Thursday evening.

“You can raise our wages but if you don’t have a job to go forward a wage increase really doesn’t make much of a difference.”

She said thousands of LCBO jobs are “on the line” in the negotiations.

Click to play video: 'What’s at stake in LCBO strike and negotiations'

What’s at stake in LCBO strike and negotiations

Political reaction pours in

Opposition politicians have been quick to point the finger of blame at the Ford government, arguing political leadership caused talks between the LCBO and its union to break down.

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Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said the revenue brought into provincial coffers by alcohol sales at the LCBO needed to be protected — a point union leadership stressed repeatedly on Thursday evening.

“The LCBO brings in billions to our community every year that then goes on to fund services like healthcare and education,” she said. “Ford’s privatization experiments are going to cost the province good jobs and billions in revenue for public services.”

Ontario Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie recalled her party’s claim that the government’s alcohol liberalization would cost $1 billion in lost licensing opportunities, bulk discounts and lost payments to the LCBO from The Beer Store.

Ontario’s finance minister has said those are “made-up numbers” but has not provided calculations of his own.

“Doug Ford needs to stop working for his rich friends, get to the negotiating table, and bargain in good faith to reach a deal that puts Ontario families first,” Crombie said.

On the other side, the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, has demanded an end to the strike and accused the LCBO’s union of holding Ontario hostage.

“There is absolutely no reason taxpayers should be getting gouged to pay government union wages for someone to put their six-pack in a bag,” the group’s Ontario director Jay Goldberg said.

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“We’ve all been to other places where local businesses can sell you a bottle and provide great service without going on strike over nonsense demands.”

Click to play video: 'Customers stock up with possible LCBO shutdown looming'

Customers stock up with possible LCBO shutdown looming

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