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Ottawa shoppers stock up as clock ticks down on LCBO labour talks




Shoppers leave LCBO on Wellington Street West Sunday after stocking up in case there is a strike by liquor store employees.

Shoppers leave LCBO on Wellington Street West on Sunday after stocking up in case of a labour dispute.

Ashley Fraser / Ottawa Citizen

As a possible strike loomed at the LCBO, Ottawa customers were stocking up — just in case their local liquor store is shut down Monday.

Negotiations carried on through the weekend toward a deadline of a 12:01 a.m. Monday strike threat by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). On Saturday a media blackout was imposed by a conciliator trying to hammer out a last-minute agreement.

The union represents roughly 8,000 staff who have been without a contract since March 31.

LCBO staffers have been using a site called (a reference to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks) to air their grievances.

Chief among them is the heavy use of casual/part-time staff. About 80 per cent of LCBO staff are casual, the workers claim, and part-time and casual staff are performing duties that used to be carried out by managers. For example, one employee said he manages larges volumes of corporate beer sales and has store-opening and closing responsibilities without being a full-time employee.

Casual staff are often called in to cover a lunch break, then sent home.

Wages had been an issue, but last month the LCBO and the union settled on a pay grid.

Of more concern is what the union calls “creeping privatization” by the Ontario Liberal government, which has increased the number of grocery stores allowed to sell alcohol and beer.

Historically, negotiations between the LCBO and its union have gone to the 11th hour before being settled. This one was rated too close to call. While the workers don’t have the leverage they once did, due to alcohol availability in local stores, the massive Canada Day weekend business is a focal point for both sides in this dispute.

Outlets in the Ottawa area were doing brisk sales Sunday, but a larger product push has been going on behind the scenes for the past week or so, with restaurants bulking up with as much as double their normal stock in the event there is a strike.

Sunday afternoon, individual consumers were buying a few extra bottles, but many said they realize there are options if the strike were to happen — Quebec variety stores, non-LCBO wine shops in Ontario, and select grocery stores.

Others said the options can’t measure up to the variety and depth of LCBO shelves, including vintage sections.

“I did stock up a bit,” said Nancy Miles, carting a mixed case out of the Westboro store. She said she was making sure she had enough supply for a Canada Day weekend barbecue.

“I like the LCBO. They have a good selection of Ontario wines, which I prefer,” Miles said. “And you get some good sales. The wine I bought is all on sale.”

She added that relying on Quebec variety stores can be hit and miss in terms of quality.

Sheralea Nadeau said she was buying wine and beer for social activities but was not stocking up for the long haul.

“We have the dépanneurs, the wine shops. It’s everywhere now. Is there a panic needed? I don’t think so,” Nadeau said.

“Even Farm Boy over here has come craft beer — realistically are we that bad of a society to think we have to stock up?

“I just grabbed a bunch so we’d have it for the weekend or whenever we have some people over.”

Brian Peters admitted he bought “a bit more than usual in case I have company, but I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen (as far as a strike).

“Just in case,” he said.

As a storm ripped through Ottawa late afternoon, last-minute shoppers were seen filling carts at the Carling Avenue LCBO in the west end.


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