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Thomas speaks out: Should the LCBO crack down on shoplifting? Yes

Thomas speaks out: Should the LCBO crack down on shoplifting? Yes

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The Toronto Star published the following op-ed, written by OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, on January 15, 2019. It is reprinted here in full.

Imagine seeing thieves wandering around your workplace, grabbing things off the shelves and getting away with it.

Imagine the frustration of knowing that in many cases you can’t stop the thief, nor are you allowed to intervene. It’s simply too dangerous.

Imagine the potential of physical assault and verbal abuse.

This is reality for many workers in LCBO retail outlets.

In some Toronto stores thousands of dollars’ worth of alcohol is stolen in a single day. Many of the perpetrators trade daily in the underground market. Others, suffering from the strains of addiction, sell to feed their habit.

It’s no secret these thefts are skyrocketing, particularly in Toronto. According to police, more than 9,000 shoplifting incidents have been reported over the past four-and-a-half years, making the LCBO the most targeted retail group in the city. The LCBO also confirms theft is on the rise, with the majority happening in urban areas.

This has implications beyond the LCBO, and you don’t need to look any further than the Ford government’s push to expand alcohol sales to corner stores, trading off control for convenience.

LCBO staff are the gold standard when it comes to social responsibility. Employees keep communities safe, but more must be done. And it’s up to senior management and the government to step up to the plate and fulfil its statutory obligation to protect these workers.

I have publicly called for a table to address this crisis. Sadly, there has been no response. Strange, given the fact that the Ford government, under the guise of safety, was intent on keeping its private cannabis warehouse secret until OPSEU disclosed its location.

I fear that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Although there is no question the theft problems at the LCBO are serious, I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that it will be nickels and dimes compared to the disaster that is waiting to happen in our neighbourhoods if corner stores get to sell controlled substances.

So why the spike in theft? There are a number of factors likely at play here.

We know the LCBO is selling almost twice the number of premium spirits – a big target for thieves – than it did in 2014.

Another issue is police resources. Staff often call 911 reporting a robbery, but Toronto police policy is not to respond unless the thieves are still in the store.

As head of the union that represents 8,500 LCBO workers, I know that our members take great pride in their work and their store. Our members feel helpless and demoralized. Some fear the recent media attention will inspire copycats. Now is the time for immediate and proactive action.

It’s a critical health and safety issue, and both LCBO management and the provincial government have an obligation to ensure staff are safe. It’s not a choice. It’s the law under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

That’s why I am demanding the LCBO immediately sit down with our health and safety and leadership team to discuss our ideas to improve store safety. I am also calling for the formation and deployment of in-house security.

The LCBO must also provide more consistent security in stores, particular those that are hardest hit by theft. Sporadic protection isn’t doing the job. The LCBO must act to deter thieves with round-the-clock security at all the stores at the top of the hit list. That would definitely send a message. Scheduling appropriate numbers of retail staff instead of cutting hours must be the new normal. And no one should work alone. Ever.

I know some people out there will see the headlines and think, here’s another reason to privatize alcohol sales. I’ve seen social media posts suggesting a private shopkeeper with a shotgun is the proper deterrent. I couldn’t disagree more. That’s not the Ontario any of us wants.

The LCBO brings huge revenues into government coffers, money used for health care, education and infrastructure. But selling controlled substances can be dangerous business. Sadly, this government’s cavalier attitude toward alcohol and cannabis has only served to desensitize the public to the downsides.

These are controlled substances for a reason. That’s why the sale of both should be done smartly, prudently and above all safely. Lives depend on it.