Tuesday, June 23, 2009

LCBO Workers Striking For The Right Reasons

Booze hounds in Ontario are in for a shock, LCBO workers are poised to walk effective midnight tonight, the first time in the LCBO's history that union members will be taking strike action. I was employed through a temporary agency at the LCBO's Durham Distribution Centre for over a year, so I can offer some perspective here.

I can already hear the moans:

"Typical union tactics, trying to squeeze more money out of the public purse".

Not so fast, let's get some context first.

We're seeing all levels of government in this country (and abroad) toss around billions of dollars in this recession. The auto sector has received tons of money to keep them propped up. Why? We're constantly being told by the likes of Dalton McGuinty that Ontario needs the types of jobs the auto sector provides. Jobs that have a measure of security, benefits and a decent living wage.

Well Dalton, charity as they say, begins at home. The LCBO has 4 classes of workers: Full Timers earning around $25 per hour, seasonal workers who make about $16 and casuals bringing in roughly $13. And then there are temporary agency employees being paid the whopping sum of $10 per hour.

Equal pay for work of equal value? Not with this Ontario crown corporation. You can have 4 people doing the same job, with the variance in pay at a staggering 250%.

I want to be clear on a specific point here, when we're talking about temps, seasonals and casuals...we're often talking about people who are working 40 hours a week, for pretty much the entire year. At the Whitby warehouse facility there are individuals who have been working for over a year through a temporary agency like Kelly Staffing or Spherion.

I can understand bringing in temporary workers for say a month or two once a year, but that's not what the LCBO is doing. They're exploiting the workforce and paying poverty level wages to some, while others have the types of jobs guys like Premier McGuinty say we need.

Union is about brother and sisterhood, about being your neighbour's keeper. Bravo to OPSEU for standing up for their most vulnerable members...and in the case of temps, non-members. The LCBO doesn't cost the taxpayer one cent, they're a cash cow with a reported profit of over $1 billion last year. Those numbers allowed senior managers to reap huge bonuses, so the money is obviously there...now how about spreading it around.

Don't believe for a second that LCBO management is looking out for Ontario's consumers of alcoholic beverages, far from it. Just this past Christmas they received a special shipment of Sheridan's Irish Liqueur, a gift box which included two stylish shot glasses. Great idea right? Sheridan's provides retailers with an attractive gift box to display, with 2 liqueur glasses included for the regular price. What? You didn't see them on display at your local LCBO retailer?

No surprise. The bottles were lifted out of the gift boxes and the glasses were sold to employees for 50 cents each, $1 for the pair. The joke around the warehouse was that the money was for management's Christmas party...at least I think it was a joke. I bought 8 of them and gifted them as candle holders.

The strike is bringing to light a lot of discussion about privatizing liquor sales. In my mind that would be incredibly stupid. Those lucky enough to have full time status with the LCBO are decently paid, they're not rich by any means, but they're able to afford a reasonable lifestyle. Privatizing liquor sales would mean replacing people making around 40-50K a year with individuals earning less than 20K.

Is that really the way we want this province and this country to go? Where a precious few at the top make huge 6 figure salaries, while the vast majority of people doing most of the actual work are asked to get by on poverty level wages. OPSEU's current radio spots are bang on the money in this regard.

If you haven't heard the ads, they highlight the scandal involving eHealth's former CEO Sarah Kramer. She was hired at a salary of $380,000, then given a bonus of $114,000 after just 4 months on the job. After handing out contracts valued at over $5 million without putting them out for competitive bidding she was released...with a severance package worth over $300,000. And the province can't afford to treat workers making less than 25K a year fairly? Yeah right.

If you drive by a picket line show the workers some support, they're striking for the right reasons.

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