Manitoba liquor workers ratify deal, but union still set to strike at Crown insurer

WINNIPEG — Liquor workers in Manitoba have voted to accept a deal reached last week with the province's Crown-owned liquor and lotteries corporation, ending a strike that began in July, just as another strike is set to begin with the province's Crown-owned auto insurer.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union says the deal reached Wednesday for liquor workers has been ratified, although exact results of the vote weren't released.

MGEU President Kyle Ross says most of the 1,400 members covered in the deal will see wage increases totaling 12 per cent over four years, with many seeing "a little bit more than that."

A statement by Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries characterizes the increases as just two per cent per year, which it says were what was on the table throughout the dispute and are consistent with other public sector settings, including many MGEU workplaces.

The employer's statement says the difference with the agreement that's been ratified is that special pay-scale adjustments driven by an upcoming Oct. 1 provincial minimum wage increase will be reallocated, to ensure the lowest paid workers get more.

The union also represents 1,700 workers at Manitoba Public Insurance, and Ross says they are proceeding with plans for a full walkout Monday in order to back talks for a new deal.

"We'd like to get a fair deal for workers at MPI as well," Ross said in a phone interview Sunday.

"Unfortunately we have to go on strike and impact Manitobans."

Voting on the agreement with liquor workers began Thursday and continued until noon Sunday, and Ross said there was a good turnout for the vote.

The liquor workers had been without a collective agreement for over a year and had been holding short-term strikes since July. A provincewide strike began earlier this month after the employer shuttered more of its locations as contract talks stalled.

The union said members working at the MBLL distribution centre will be back to work Sunday evening, with all other members returning to their jobs as early as Monday.

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries said all Liquor marts will be open Monday, although one store in Winnipeg and another in Brandon will be exclusive to commercial customers until later this week. It said deliveries to commercial partners including private retailers, such as liquor vendors, and licensees, such as bars and restaurants, will begin next week.

"MBLL has not had a strike since the 1970s, so we appreciate that the last six weeks may have shaken public confidence in us," the corporation said in a news release.

"Everyone at MBLL remains fully committed to delivering on all expectations of us -- for our customers, business partners, and all Manitobans."

Ross said the union had hoped to bargain this weekend with MPI for a resolution in that dispute, but said the employer wouldn't talk.

MPI said in a statement Saturday that its comprehensive offer would provide unionized employees with guaranteed 17 per cent increases over four years, coupled with an offer to go to binding arbitration on the issue of general wage increases.

The union has said the wage offer is not really a 17 per cent increase because it includes one-time payments and some non-wage items.

MPI said if there's a strike, its contact centre will remain open for reporting personal injury claims, non-driveable collision claims and total-theft claims.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 27, 2023.

The Canadian Press