Dozens of LCBO workers rally in downtown Toronto on day 2 of historic strike

Thousands of workers at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario began their first-ever strike on Friday morning. (Alexis Raymon/CBC News - image credit)
Thousands of workers at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario began their first-ever strike on Friday morning. (Alexis Raymon/CBC News - image credit)

More than a hundred workers with Ontario's main liquor retailer are in downtown Toronto today to raise awareness of their historic strike as it enters its second day.

Thousands of workers at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) began their first-ever strike on Friday morning, following months of unsuccessful contract negotiations between their union and management.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union says workers are concerned with Premier Doug Ford's accelerated plan to expand the alcohol market.

It says they fear job losses after Ford's government announced plans to allow convenience stores and all grocery stores to sell beer, wine and ready-to-drink cocktails.

At least 150 people attended the rally, juggling umbrellas to ward off the rain with signs urging the government to keep liquor sales public.

LCBO retail locations are expected to stay closed for at least 14 days, though convenience outlets in smaller communities will remain open and online ordering is available with product limits in place.

'We're not going to break' 

JP Hornick, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said workers are "drawing a line in the sand" around the privatization and casualization of alcohol.

Over 70 per cent of LCBO workers are casual, meaning they have no guaranteed hours, benefits or access to permanent part-time or full-time jobs, Hornick said at a LCBO picket line on Bay and Bloor streets Saturday.

As well, allowing ready-to-drink spirits to be purchased outside the LCBO would reduce sales by about 9 per cent, Hornick said. This expansion would shrink how much revenue goes toward the province's public services, they said.

The province earned $2.5 billion from the LCBO last year. "That's money that goes into public healthcare, public education," Hornick said.

Ready-to-drink spirits being sold outside the LCBO will cut down how much revenue goes towards supporting provincial public services, said JP Hornick, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, at a picket line on Saturday.
Ready-to-drink spirits being sold outside the LCBO will cut down how much revenue goes towards supporting provincial public services, said JP Hornick, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, at a picket line on Saturday.

Ready-to-drink spirits being sold outside the LCBO will cut down how much revenue goes towards supporting provincial public services, said JP Hornick, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, at a picket line on Saturday. (Alexis Raymon/CBC News)

Another concern is that the Ford government has not allocated sufficient funds for alcohol training programs for expanded locations, the union president said.

"Imagine what would happen in gas stations if you wind up with wine, beer and ready-to-drink [being sold] with very little training," Hornick said.

Uriel Barnett has been a casual worker at the LCBO for over 2 years. He said he has coworkers who have been casuals, without permanent positions, for 10 years.

"We're fighting for job security and we're fighting for better working conditions," Barnett said.

He said striking LCBO workers are understandably frustrated. "We do good work. We serve the public, and we want to be treated fairly," he said.

Even if there is little progress at the negotiating table after two weeks, Barnett said workers are in it for the long haul.

"We're strong. We're not going to break," he said.

Restaurants and bars relying on stockpiled alcohol 

Some restaurants and bars are hoping stockpiled alcohol will carry them through the strike.

CKTL & CO, a restaurant and cocktail bar in Toronto's financial district, has enough alcohol to last them about three weeks, said Joseph Melhem, the restaurant's senior operations manager.

While some of the most frequently requested alcohols can be predicted, "the other things, you cannot anticipate," he said. "You cannot know what our customers might order. This is the tricky part."

Joseph Melhem, senior operations manager at CKTL & CO in downtown Toronto, says the bar has stockpiled enough alcohol to last them about three weeks. He says restaurant owners don't know whether the LCBO will be able to fulfill online wholesale deliveries to licensed establishments during the strike.
Joseph Melhem, senior operations manager at CKTL & CO in downtown Toronto, says the bar has stockpiled enough alcohol to last them about three weeks. He says restaurant owners don't know whether the LCBO will be able to fulfill online wholesale deliveries to licensed establishments during the strike.

Joseph Melhem, senior operations manager at CKTL & CO in downtown Toronto, says the bar has stockpiled enough alcohol to last them about three weeks. He says restaurant owners don't know whether the LCBO will be able to fulfill online wholesale deliveries to licensed establishments during the strike. (Ken Townsend/CBC News)

The bar gets about 60 per cent of its alcohol from the LCBO, Melhem said. Licensed establishments can place wholesale orders online during the strike, purchasing alcohol by the case of 12 bottles or more.

"To what extent [the LCBO] can do it, we don't know," he said. "I think we need to wait and see. Time will tell."

Not all alcohol can be bought by the case, Melhem said. For some products, such as single malt whiskey, one or two bottles can last the bar an entire year.

The LCBO has said it will open 5 retail stores for restaurant and bar owners to shop in-person by appointment on July 10. If CKTL & CO's less popular spirits run out before then, Melhem said the bar will need to wait until July 10 to buy single bottles.

If delivery delays happen or the in-store shopping system proves difficult, he says some drinks will have to be taken off the menu. Such adjustments are likely inevitable at some point in the next few weeks, he added.

"We will rely on the people's patience and hope for the best," Melhem said.