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LCBO urges union to restart contract talks, says ready-to-drink cocktails 'not a part of bargaining'

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Expanding ready-to-drink beverages into grocery and corner stores is a “matter of public policy” and not something that will be addressed at the bargaining table, the LCBO said in a statement that urged the union representing striking workers to restart contract talks.

All LCBO locations provincewide have been closed since Friday after approximately 9,000 workers represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) walked off the job.

At that time, one of the major sticking points at the bargaining table was the Ford government’s decision to expand alcohol retail in Ontario, allowing corner stores to sell beer, wine, and ready-to-drink beverages.

“On Thursday, July 4, the LCBO made a very fair offer that included wage increases, improved access to benefits, and provided for additional job security for workers. Instead of responding to this offer or sitting down to talk about it, OPSEU held a press conference to announce it was going on strike over the issue of ready-to-drink beverages,” the Crown corporation’s statement read.

“Two days ago, the president of OPSEU appeared to indicate that ready-to-drink beverages was no longer the union’s top issue, saying instead job security was its chief concern. If OPSEU is now prepared to agree that ready-to-drink beverages are a matter of public policy and not something that should be discussed as part of bargaining, we strongly encourage them to respond to our July 4 offer. We are at the table ready for active negotiations to restart today.”

Responding to the LCBO’s statement, OPSEU reiterated that the strike “is a fight for the future of the LCBO and the $2.5 billion in revenues it generates for public services each year.”

“That’s why we put forward a plan to grow the LCBO to meet demand, to expand revenues and to support good jobs at the LCBO and in our communities. That’s our priority,” the union said in a statement Thursday night.

OPSEU called the LCBO’s most recent offer “insulting” and said the Crown corporation told its bargaining team not to come back to the table unless they drop their demand involving the expansion of sales of alcohol, including the profitable ready-to-drink beverages.

“The employer does not get to unilaterally decide what is discussed at the table – that’s why it’s called bargaining. We’re willing to return to the table at any moment – and for us, nothing is off the table. We know bargaining is a two-way street,” OPSEU said.

On Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford indicated that striking workers would not get a deal if they continued to push to keep ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails out of grocery and convenience stores.

“If they want to negotiate over RTD, the deal is off,” Ford told reporters at a news conference at a brewery in Etobicoke on Wednesday.

“Let me be very clear. It is done, it is gone. That ship has sailed. It’s halfway across Lake Ontario.”

Ford also claimed to have spoken to hundreds of frontline LCBO employees in recent days, adding that they “aren’t worried about this RTD” issue.

“We didn’t walked away from the table. OPSEU walked away from the table, didn’t even look at the proposal. The workers need to look at the proposal,” Ford said.

“When they want to come back and talk about what their frontline workers want… it is right in the proposal that we gave them that the frontline workers haven’t even seen. So I’ve been sending it over to the workers and they are shocked when they looked at it. And many have called me back and said ‘this is a good deal. Why aren’t we at the table.’”

Speaking to CP24 on Wednesday afternoon, Colleen MacLeod, the chair of OPSEU/SEFPO’s liquor board employees division, said the government’s decision to open up RTDs to other retailers will ultimately result in job losses.

"Doug calls himself a businessman. And I want to know what business person gives away some of their most profitable products and the largest growing market really right now and gives it away to everybody else," MacLeod said.

"The more profit products that leave our facilities, the less work, the less likely people are going to come to our stores. Revenue will drop for the province. Our jobs will be lost. So this is a major concern.”

MacLeod said the premier has to reassure workers that the government has a plan to make up lost revenues when alcohol sales expand.

"You need to guarantee that our members will still be employed, they'll still be able to put food on the table for their families, (and) we'll still be able to pay our mortgages and our rent," MacLeod said.

“We have precarious workers all across the province who are asking Doug to commit to them, commit to Ontario workers. This is what we need from Doug Ford." 

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