A province-wide strike vote for thousands of LCBO staff workers has begun and the union representing the workers says the province's "ill-advised plan" to sell alcohol in grocery stores is a key concern.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said alcohol sales outside the LCBO could spell the end of government-owned alcohol retailer.
"This collective agreement is the one thing that stands between the outright privatization of the LCBO, versus keeping it public," he said Monday.
And that, Thomas said, would be a lose-lose situation for both the province and the public.
"The more you give away your own market share, the profits go to private enterprise rather than public good," he said.
Those profits, he added, help the province pay for everything from schools to roads to hospitals.
LCBO maintains 'competitive advantage'
But Heather MacGregor, executive director of the trade association Drinks Ontario, said the province's plan to eventually roll out beer, wine, and cider sales in up to 450 grocery stores is a positive move.
"Adding competition has been good for the LCBO. It's been good for grocers. It's been good for local producers, and the alcohol beverage trade in general," she said. "And most important, it's been good for the consumer."
Sales in grocery stores have helped to heighten the importance of the customer experience, she said.
The LCBO still maintains a "healthy competition advantage," MacGregor added, due to its exclusive ability to sell spirits.
The province has said it's "modernizing" how alcohol is sold.
"Our goal is to ensure fair competition and distribution across the province," reads the Ontario web page on beer, wine and cider sales in grocery stores.
As for the LCBO, the retailer is "committed to reaching a negotiated collective agreement with OPSEU," according to spokesperson Christine Bujold.
"We will be returning to the bargaining table later this week and will continue to negotiate towards a fair settlement for our employees which takes into account the evolving retail landscape in which the LCBO operates," she said.
Job security, scheduling, and health and safety are among the issues on the table for 7,500 LCBO staff represented by the union.
Voting is taking place on Monday and Tuesday.