One of the most lucrative retailers in the province should be sharing a greater portion of its profits with all of its employees, say members of the union representing employees of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).
Last week, unionized workers at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario voted 93 per cent in favour of strike action if negotiations don’t prove fruitful. The collective agreement between OPSEU and the LCBO expired Mar. 31.
The union is demanding the LCBO hire more employees into permanent positions with higher pay, regular hours and benefits. OPSEU also objects to what it sees as an LCBO policy of replacing well paid, full-time jobs with temporary, part-time, low paying positions.
“It is atrocious. The LCBO is so profitable when it comes to profit per worker,” said OPSEU spokesperson Randy Robinson in an interview this week.
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“It’s about 30 times the profit per worker that would prevail at Wal-Mart. … There is so much money at this employer. They make $1.4 billion with a total of about 7,000 people including managers so, it’s $200,000 a year in profits per worker – the sales per worker are more like a million.”
Currently, OPSEU represents some 6,000 members in the bargaining unit. These employees work in stores, warehouses and the LCBO head office in Toronto. Some 40 per cent of those workers (about 2,400) are full-time, permanent staff, said Robinson. At least 60 per cent are casual year-round workers.
Some 1,500 “fixed-term” temporary workers fill in during peak periods including the summer and Christmas seasons.
The LCBO store in Elmira currently employs one full-time worker (manager) and three casual employees. Casual workers’ hours can be cut back when business is slow or increased during peak business periods, said Robinson, and the trend towards replacing full time jobs with part time ones is increasing.
Fixed-term temporary (seasonal) employees earn $10 an hour; casual employees (part-time) start at a range of $13.84 per hour with increments of $15.22, $16.62 and a maximum of $18.77 (depending on the year hired) but their hours vary week to week and from location to location; bargaining unit managers’ wages range from $27.47 per hour to $29.53 per hour.
The OPSEU is concerned that too many full-time jobs are being slashed in favour of low-paying positions that offer significantly lower wages and no benefits.
“The whole drive of the LCBO is to get rid of full-time jobs and replace them with these casual, part-time and temporary jobs with no benefits, no ability to pay into a pension plan and no way to ever dream of retiring,” he said. Workers belonging to the lower tiers “really have no way to raise a family or ever dream of retiring.”
LCBO spokesperson Chris Layton, however, refuted the idea that the retailer is actively eliminating full-time positions.
“To suggest that we’re getting rid of full-time employees is just not true,” he said. “We’re not walking away whatsoever from full-time positions.”
Layton said that the LCBO continues to hire full-time employees as well as part-timers on an ongoing basis and that between 2005 and 2009, 476 casual employees moved into full time positions as a result of job vacancies and retirements.
That said, Layton noted that the retailer is facing some added stresses in the current economic climate.
“We have to operate efficiently as a business because if we don’t, it’s not going to be very long before somebody says, ‘well, somebody else should be running the liquor business and then you’d get calls for privatization,” Layton said.
“It’s a different economic climate right now and even for us, alcohol is not recession proof.”
Sales for the fiscal year of 2008-2009 were up 3.9 per cent higher than in the previous year. But the LCBO projects a “softening” of sales in 2009-2010 with a 2.5 per cent decline in total sales, said Layton.
Robinson doesn’t buy that, however.
“This notion that they are losing money or something like that is absolutely ridiculous – they’re not.
“We just really think that if they want to have part-time workers – which we agree with, there can be part-time jobs – that they should be permanent part-time jobs with top rated benefits and decent wages so that at least that part of your life is under control for you. The way it is right now your hours go up and down like a yo-yo and you don’t have any benefits and you just can’t live,” said Robinson.
“Just because somebody’s working part-time it doesn’t mean they should be poor.”
Bargaining resumed this week.