LCBO workplace the 'complete opposite' of Ontario's proposed labour laws, say employees

With just days to go before a potential strike, employees at the LCBO are blasting the province for alleged mistreatment and accusing Premier Kathleen Wynne's government of hypocrisy over its proposed changes to labour laws.

'We're proud of the jobs we offer,' said LCBO president and CEO George Soleas

The Ontario restaurant and bar industry purchases roughly half a billion dollars of alcohol a year from the LCBO. (David Donnelly/CBC)

With just days to go before a potential strike, employees at the LCBO are blasting the province for alleged mistreatment and accusing Premier Kathleen Wynne's government of hypocrisy over its proposed changes to labour laws.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) recently launched a new campaign and website to highlight what it calls "the ugly truth" about working at the LCBO —  including a high percentage of part-time staff, long work weeks and a lack of benefits and job security.

"There was a time where having a government job was a good thing; now having a government job feels like a bad joke," said Cambridge LCBO employee Chris Whittaker in a video posted to the website dubbed "LiqiLeaks."

"Many folks like myself are working seven days a week, four-hour shifts maximum a day. Some of them are [working] upwards of 50, 60 days continuously," he said.

Most of the short videos end with the employees making an appeal to either LCBO president and CEO George Soleas or Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

"It's a weird feeling," said Craig Hadley, who works at the LCBO's head office in Toronto. "On one hand the premier's talking out of her mouth saying we want to be a leader in Ontario and meanwhile at her shop it's the complete opposite.".

Toronto LCBO employee Craig Hadley says the LCBO relies too heavily on part-time employees. (OPSEU)

Province examining changes

In February, CBC Toronto first reported the province would consider sweeping changes to the laws governing work in Ontario.

While the Ministry of Labour told CBC Toronto it could not comment on the ongoing negotiations between the LCBO and OPSEU, the ministry pointed to its recent steps to improve workplace conditions thorough its Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act.

The act is a response to a previous report that recommended 173 changes to workplace laws.

The special advisers hired to carry out that study recommend that Ontario initiate an "urgent study" with the goal of providing improved health benefits to part-time and full-time employees.

Bonnie Bromilow, an LCBO employee in Timmins, pointed to that issue in her video testimony.

"I should not have to wait five years to get benefits," she said.

The report also called for expansions to personal and emergency leave entitlements, including increased leave to care for family members with medical issues, which the province included in its proposed legislation.

However, LCBO employees fear the proposed changes may not be extended to Crown employees, who can be exempt from Ontario's employment standards laws. Labour experts say that would be a mistake, and might reveal a double standard.

"It really should be a no-brainer," said Deena Ladd of the Worker's Action Centre. "They should ensure that whatever they're trying to do with Bill 148 absolutely extends to the LCBO workers."

LCBO offers 'good jobs'

The LCBO also told CBC Toronto it could not discuss the claims made as part of the "LiqiLeaks" campaign, but its president and CEO George Soleas provided an update on negotiations last Friday.

President and CEO George Soleas says the LCBO must consider customers and taxpayers while negotiating with its employees. (LCBO)

In his video statement, Soleas says the LCBO has made progress at the bargaining table and pointed to the quality employment offered by the organization.

"We're proud of the good jobs we offer at the LCBO and remain committed to reaching a deal that is fair to our employees, our customers and the taxpayers of Ontario," he said.

The union can initiate a strike at 12:01 a.m. on June 26.

About the Author

Nick Boisvert

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nick Boisvert is a reporter and one-man band video journalist based in Toronto. He previously worked for the CBC in Vancouver, Windsor and Kitchener-Waterloo. When he’s not chasing politicians or driving to a crime scene, Nick enjoys cooking, comedy and following the NBA.

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