Echo 56 April 2016 -- Message from the Chair and more

Publication Date

Friday, April 22, 2016 - 1:15pm

Message from the Chair

“Check 25. It’s not personal. it’s the law.”

That’s the friendly message that greets every customer who walks into an LCBO retail outlet anywhere in Ontario. It’s true. Nobody does a better job of enforcing the rules around a shopper’s ability to buy alcohol at the LCBO than the 4,000 or more OPSEU members who work on the front lines of retail sales. It’s our job to weed out those who want to break our laws. In the process, we’re the ones who help prevent some from harming themselves, and others, by their reckless behaviour.

It’s too bad, then, that our provincial government isn’t demanding more in terms of social responsibility from those supermarket chains which have started selling beer in their stores, soon to be followed by widespread wine sales. Don’t be fooled. In time, the supermarket industry’s aim is to “normalize” the presence and sale of alcohol so that it becomes a consumer product no different than tin foil, deodorant, or chicken broth.

The thing is, alcohol is no ordinary consumer good. It’s a controlled substance that we know can exact a horrible toll on families and communities when abused. A part of that cycle of abuse can, potentially, be traced to the lax enforcement of rules when it comes to purchasing of beer, wine and spirits.

Don’t take my word for it: it’s what health care, social affairs and economic experts have been saying for years. The widespread availability of alcohol, they say, leads directly to higher social costs to health care, productivity and criminal justice. Too bad Kathleen Wynne and her government are tone deaf to the message.

In our workplace it’s the job of the LCBO to ensure that as many minors as possible are blocked from buying alcohol. Some recent media stories say the corporation could be doing more. I agree that management could be doing more. I also happen to believe strongly that OPSEU members working at the LCBO are the first line of defense when it comes to keeping our communities safe by keeping alcohol out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have it in the first place. Keep up the great work!

In Solidarity
Denise Davis, Chair, Liquor Board Employees Division

Our bargaining cycle has started!

In March, OPSEU staff representatives started distributing demand-set surveys to LBED members. The purpose of this exercise was determine the major interests you want to see put into place in advance of our next round of bargaining. The response was outstanding!

These surveys and results have been received and tabulated by the collective bargaining unit at OPSEU head office. The results will be shared with delegates and alternates at our pre-bargaining conference (PBC) in Toronto on April 30, 2016.

The PBC will give participants the opportunity to examine and debate a number of broadly-based issues that will figure prominently in our next round of negotiations in 2017. We will also review the survey results and develop themes for consideration at local demand-setting meetings. The result will provide guidance and a sense of direction we want to go in our contract negotiations.

Delegates to the PBC will also be electing your next bargaining team.

In November, we will gather for our final demand-set meeting where delegates will discuss and adopt our final demands and rank them by priority.

Ontario’s plan private beer and wine sales: less profits for public services

The people of Ontario own the LCBO. As a society, we get to collect the profits – okay, the “dividends” – that result from the responsible retailing of alcohol inside our stores.

Regrettably, in the future, we will have to share those profits with the big grocery chains such as Loblaw, Sobeys, and Metro.

That’s really the net result of the provincial government’s complicated plan for 300 grocery stores to sell wine and beer by 2025. (A further 150 grocery stores will have beer-only licenses).

About 150 of those grocery stores will be allowed to purchase imported and domestic wine from the LCBO at a discount off the net price and then sell the wine to consumers at the retail price. This is the system currently in place for beer sales at those grocery stores already permitted to sell.

Consumers will pay the same retail price for beer and wine, no matter which retail outlet they buy it from: the LCBO, the Beer Store, a grocery store, or a private wine store.

The difference is the LCBO will get to keep less of the profits. In effect, because grocery stores will receive a discount off the net price, LCBO will be sharing its profits with some large and profitable companies.

But who should really pockets these profits? The people of Ontario, that’s who! The Wynne government is diverting the money that should go to the provincial treasury to pay for public services such as hospitals, schools and roads to private for-profit corporations instead.

The other 150 grocery stores won’t apply for wine licenses themselves. Instead, the private wine stores currently at their locations, typically the Wine Shop, Wine Rack, or Colio, will move inside the store and share a checkout with the grocery store. Exclusively Ontario-produced wine will be sold at these stores. It will be a product that is produced by the owner of the stores and other Ontario producers.The grocery stores will also be eligible to apply for a beer license.

The re-positioning of the private wine stores is more bad news for the LCBO and its owners, the people of Ontario. The provincial treasury earns less revenue from a bottle of wine sold at a private wine store than the same bottle of wine sold at the LCBO. This is because a wine tax, and not the LCBO mark up, is applied to the bottle of wine. Even if the province raises the wine tax rate, it is still likely to be lower than the mark up.

You have to ask yourself: Why would a government deliberately undercut a provincial asset which contributes close to two billion dollars annually for public services?

Is it because of convenience? Is it because the LCBO isn’t doing a good job of selling Ontario wine? The answer is “no” on both counts.

About 90 per cent of Ontarians live within five kilometres of an LCBO outlet or an LCBO-licensed Agency store, according to the Retain & Gain report of the Premier’s Advisory Council on Government Assets, issued in November, 2014. The LCBO currently sell 85 per cent of all wine sold in the province. Sales of Ontario wine at LCBO stores rose faster (9.3 per cent) than they did at private retail outlets (5.4 per cent), according to the LCBO’s 2014-15 Annual Report.

As OPSEU has repeatedly reminded the public in its news releases on the issue privatization of alcohol retailing, the Wynne government has caved into private interests who want nothing less than a very lucrative share of the beverage alcohol market in our province.

By doing so, the Wynne government has ignored decades of evidence that demonstrates publicly-owned liquor stores do a better job of minimizing the health and safety risks brought about by alcohol abuse. For the benefit of everyone, let’s keep the LCBO in public hands and shelve future plans to open up alcohol sales to the bottom-line hunger of the free market.

Employment equity

The employment equity committee of our Liquor Board Employees Division understands that the numerous incidents of harassment and discrimination throughout the LCBO are systemic by nature. The committee has identified that when responding to allegations of harassment and discrimination, the LCBO often fails to follow its own procedures and that the procedures that currently exist are woefully inadequate.

To ensure procedural fairness, the committee made recommendations for improvements, specifically enforceable time frames; responding to complainants in an acceptable time, and providing results of the investigation. To date, the LCBO has not responded to our suggestions. The current process has many flaws and must be revised before our members can have any confidence in the LCBO’s so-called safeguards against harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

The employment equity committee also continues to review the employer's policies regarding internal investigations and workplace accommodation issues. Our next labour-management meeting on employment equity is scheduled for April 26.

The LCBO Diversity Day is held each September and, for the first time this past year, OPSEU enjoyed having a booth at the head office event. We encourage others around the province to participate in this annual event that celebrates equity in the workplace.

‘The Boss’ and ‘The Worker:’ Conflicting views on the LCBO workplace

The LCBO is a crown jewel for the Ontario treasury. It employs more than 7,000 people and generates a dividend of almost two billion dollars that helps pay for health care, education and infrastructure. But the LCBO’s workforce is dominated by precarious, part-time workers called, ‘casuals’.

With casuals often having to wait more than 10 years to gain full-time, permanent employment, is the LCBO justified in the way it treats its own workforce?

As The Boss sees it …

Yes!  The LCBO is a revenue tool for the provincial government, not a make-work project.  For every casual worker that we transition from casual to full-time, we lose profits.  It’s this profit that determines whether or not Queen’s Park keeps the LCBO as a crown corporation – or sells it outright to the private sector.  The LCBO is given a budget from the provincial government, and we disperse monies where we’ll capture the greatest return. If the government wanted to fill our stores with a bunch of full-timers standing around, it would direct senior management to do so. They haven’t, and they won’t.

The LCBO is owned by the province but we adopt a business model used by other large retailers in the private sector.  It’s a business model dominated by part-time employment. If the LCBO strays from following these trends, the LCBO runs the risk of being labelled a bloated government institution, and that will certainly lead to privatization. As a matter of fact, if our staff didn’t have a union, I assure you, we would pay lower wages and have even less full-time workers. The LCBO isn’t a charity; if casual workers want full-time employment, then my advice would be to take advantage of our tuition rebate program and work towards any of our  merit-based careers.

In closing, the LCBO values its staff, our casual wages are competitive, and our workers are happy.  It’s disheartening to know the union is creating a problem where one doesn’t exist.

As The Worker sees it …

No! The LCBO is not justified by how it treats its workforce. The LCBO employs thousands of casual workers, many of whom struggle to put food on the table. These are dedicated staff members, many of whom have been with the company for more than a decade.  They’re our brothers and our sisters; they’re our mothers and fathers; they’re our friends and neighbours.  Every time the goal line of full-time work comes into view for these folks, management enlists underhanded tactics such as store transfers, shift reductions and schedule tweaking, to push the goal line further back. It’s even worse outside of large, urban centres; the wait time for full-time, permanent employment can stretch into decades. This cost-saving strategy is immoral and it defies Kathleen Wynne’s pledge to be the "social justice" premier.  So, while workers understand the LCBO’s goal of maximizing profits, it should not be done on the back of those workers you claim to value.

We’re sad to hear that you’re disheartened by the basement-dwelling morale of staff. I assure you it’s a problem, and it’s entirely of your own doing.

Every corporation (public or private) has a wide range of different of positions, and no one position is any more important than the other. So while you may personally believe that a senior manager has more value than a front line worker, it’s your front line workers who are the face of the company. We’re the first and last person the customers sees. Short-change us, cut staffing, slash resources, and you jeopardize customer satisfaction.  If our customers aren’t pleased with us, then your attempt to keep the LCBO public using market trends – aka ‘Walmart-style economics” – will be the very undoing of a publicly-owned LCBO.

Finally, it may come as a surprise to you, but not all workers want to climb the corporate ladder inside the LCBO. Many of us are happy with our chosen line of work. But it is profoundly unfair that you deliberately elect to pay casuals less than their full-time equivalents. It’s sad to accept that a so-called corporate leader like the LCBO is contributing to precarious part-time employment rather than making it your mission to eliminate it.

OPSEU president and DivEx members meet with LCBO management

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, along with LBED chair Denise Davis, and anti-privation sub-committee chair Rick Woodall, sat down with senior management from the LCBO on March 8 to discuss a wide range of issues, including the provincial government’s plan to widely expand beer and wine sales inside private grocery stores over the next several years.

The meeting also addressed the LCBO’s plan to sell off about 250 retail properties it currently owns in many locations across the province.

The LCBO was represented at the meeting by incoming CEO George Soleas, and senior executives responsible for employee relations and government relations.

While no consensus was reached on the issues the two sides discussed, the OPSEU president came away from the meeting saying the meet was a good opportunity to “clear the air” on some matters. More talks are planned in the future.

Shaping an alcohol strategy for Ontario

OPSEU, in partnership with seven other advocacy groups, will be co-sponsoring a one-day forum on how Ontario should go about developing an alcohol strategy for the province, a plan announced last year by the Wynne government.

Titled “An Alcohol Strategy for Ontario – Promoting Public Health and Community Safety,” the May 18 event at Oakham House in Toronto will draw together several leading experts from across Ontario and Canada. They will participate in sessions that will address the impact that wider availability of beer, wine and spirits has on social policy, economic productivity and health care costs. Participants will also make recommendations on how the province can build an alcohol strategy that is evidence-based, and one that is not driven by private market forces.

The scheduled key note speaker is Ann Dowsett Johnston, the best-selling author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol. Besides OPSEU, other organizing groups include the Ontario Nurses Association, UFCW, Arrive Alive-Drive Sober, Unifor, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, and Ontario Students Against Drunk Driving.

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