Liquor store workers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike, while the union representing them continues talks toward a new contract with Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.

Members of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union who work at Liquor Marts, in the distribution centre and at head office voted 97 per cent in favour of possible strike action, the union announced Wednesday afternoon.

Voter turnout among the 868 members was "historically high" and include employees from all departments, the MGEU said in an update posted on its website.

The union is continuing to negotiate with the MBLL toward a new contract. Both sides will meet again on Thursday.

The MGEU stressed that "a favourable strike vote does not always mean a strike will follow," but rather it allows the bargaining committee to set a strike date if no agreement is reached in a reasonable period of time.

"The members spoke loud and clear and gave the bargaining committee a strong strike mandate," union president Michelle Gawronsky stated in the update.

"We stand in solidarity: the liquor workers want the employer to come back to the bargaining table prepared to bargain in earnest, without the concessions and with a reasonable wage offer."

Timing of vote 'a savvy move,' says expert

David Camfield, an associate professor of labour studies at the University of Manitoba, says the timing of the strike vote — just in time for the holidays — puts the union at an advantage.

"It's a savvy move on the part of the union to be in negotiations at a time when the liquor commission does such a large proportion of its annual sales," he said.

Camfield said if there is a strike, public support would depend on how people are affected. Any strike poses a significant inconvenience for people, which puts the union at risk, he said.

At the same time, he said the increased demand for liquor and beer during the Christmas holidays will add pressure on the employer.

"I think they're both in a difficult situation, but I don't think the employer's in a good position," he said.

Camfield added that a labour dispute would create a real headache for Manitoba's NDP government, so it will probably want to discourage a strike.

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries' demand for concessions is what driving the union toward strike action, he said.

Union officials say they won't comment on their next move until Friday.