Canada dry? LCBO strike on horizon ahead of Canada Day

LCBO and OPSEU continue to meet at the bargaining table to avoid a possible work stoppage before Canada Day long weekend.

Deadline for new collective bargaining agreement is June 26

LCBO could soon strike if the Crown corporation and its unionized employees do not sign a new collective bargaining agreement. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

Talks between the the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) continue, but the danger of a possible strike bleeding into Canada Day long weekend and disrupting the plans of many Ontarians, is growing. 

The union that represents 7,500 employees working for the Crown corporation, said it will be in a position to legally strike as of 12:01 a.m. on June 26.

Both sides are trying to sign a new collective bargaining agreement; the last CBA expired on March 31.

Consumers in Toronto aren't hitting the panic button yet with weeks still to go before Canada Day. But they are considering the possible reality that they won't be able to buy their favourite beer or wine on one of the most anticipated long weekends of the year. 

Claudia Pedraza said she may stock up on supplies in the event that a strike spills into the Canada Day long weekend. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

"I think everyone's going to be affected by it," said Claudia Pedraza, who was stocking up on beer, vodka and cider at the LCBO at the corner of King Street and Spadina Avenue.

"It's summer, everyone goes to the LCBO at least once a week, I feel."

Many who were carrying signature brown paper bags out of the LCBO said they were in a "wait and see" mindset, but wouldn't rule out having a few bottles of wine and beer on hand if negotiations don't result in a deal by late June. 

One of them was Ramtin Bidsharhri, who said of the possible strike: "There's going to be a lot of disappointed folks out there but at the same time, it's about supporting the jobs and the economy as well." 

At the heart of the negotiations is what OPSEU President Warren "Smokey" Thomas said is a more fair wage system for LCBO casual retail employees. 

​Strike action to begin June 26

"We want to see more full-time work," Thomas said, adding that the number of casual employees has grown over the years. 

Thomas also said he's heard from members in precarious working situations. "One fellow who's worked 90 days in a row, four hour days... There's got to be a way you can make eight hour shifts, even if it's part time."

"It can give some people some time to find other part time jobs, if necessary to make a living." 

Thomas estimates 84 per cent of the LCBO's workforce consists of part-time employees, with 80 per cent of those employees being female. He suggests that the wait for a deal could continue until the 11th hour. 

LCBO has countered claims its casual employees are not being paid fair wages. 

"This isn't about money," LCBO said in its written statement on June 9. 

"Our CSR employees receive some of the highest wages in the retail sector in Canada... In early May we invested more the $5M in our front-line employees through the implementation of the single wage grid arbitration award."

It could be in the interest of both parties to resolve the job action sooner rather than later as public pressure would mount before the Canada Day long weekend. 

Thomas said he understands the frustration.

"The public might get a little ornery with us but I would ask them to try to understand and what they would do if they were in that position?"