New Brunswick

N.B. Liquor employees poised to strike a week from now if deal not reached

Unionized workers at N.B. Liquor will be in a legal strike position as of 12:01 a.m. next Tuesday after 97.7 per cent of them voted in favour of a strike.

CUPE Local 963 would become the 11th local to go on strike since a public-sector strike began Oct. 29

Jamie Agnew, president of CUPE Local 963, representing workers at N.B. Liquor, told a news conference Tuesday that the workers had voted to go on strike, which could happen as early as next Tuesday. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Unionized workers at N.B. Liquor will be in a legal strike position as of 12:01 a.m. next Tuesday after 97.7 per cent of them voted in favour of a strike.

In a strike vote held last week, 521 of the 566 members of CUPE Local 963 voted to go on strike, union leaders announced at a news conference in Fredericton on Tuesday.

The vote was conducted from Nov. 3 to Nov 6.

If a contract agreement isn't reached in the next week, the N.B. Liquor employees would join thousands of public-sector workers who went on strike Oct 29.

Agnew, left, with CUPE New Brunswick president Stephen Drost, said a strike would affect 41 stores operated by the Crown corporation. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC)

Forty-one publicly owned and run retail outlets and warehouses would be closed to inbound and outbound traffic, Jamie Agnew, the president of Local 963, told reporters.

It would fall to N.B. Liquor management to come up with contingency plans for navigating the closures. 

"They're not telling us their contingency plans," said Agnew, who doubted agency stores in smaller communities could fill the void.

"I don't believe the agency stores can handle the business that N.B. Liquor handles in a run of a day. …We have stores that serve over 2,000 customers a day." 

Agency stores typically exist in communities without existing alcohol outlets and serve the public in places the Crown corporation has chosen not to put one of its own stores.

Local 963, like the CUPE locals already on strike, is at odds with the province over wages. 

Casual retail and warehouse employees earn $16.78 an hour, which is the lowest end of the pay spectrum, while full-time assistant managers can earn close to $23 an hour, which is at the highest end.   

Agnew said a tentative agreement had been reached between the union and management a year ago, but it was  blocked by Premier Blaine Higgs. 

Sixty-nine days later, according to Agnew, the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board decided a tentative agreement had not been reached.

Both sides once again went back to the bargaining table.

"The last offer offered to us was not acceptable," Agnew said. "It was eight and a half per cent over five years. Lower than the tentative agreement that we thought we already had with them."

Since then, the union has yet to receive another proposal from management.

"I haven't had a raise in three years, and my last raise was point five per cent," said Agnew.

"We are struggling, we need a fair deal and we need it now."

For the fiscal 2020-2021 year, the Crown Corporation has reported a historical high in sales records of $505.9 million and a net income of $199.4 million. 

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