Billionaires benefit while LCBO public workers are hung out to dry-Andria Babbington

Andria Babbington

By Lincoln DePradine

Labour leaders in Ontario are opposed to what they claim are plans by Premier Doug Ford and his conservative government to privatize the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).

“Ford wants to privatize the LCBO to hand the profits to his billionaire buddies, while cutting our public services and hanging workers out to dry,” according to Andria Babbington, president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council (TYRLC).

Babbington’s allegation comes amidst comments to the contrary from Premier Ford, and an ongoing strike by LCBO workers represented by the Ontario Public Sector Employees’ Union (OPSEU).

The workers walked off the job on Friday, July 5. The strike is a fallout from the breakdown of contract talks over wage increases and other issues, as well as concerns that new government alcohol policies will result in LCBO store closures and worker layoffs.

The LCBO was established in 1927 as the sole retailer and wholesaler of wine, beer, and spirits in the province. If has 389 convenience outlets and more than 680 retail stores.

It has reported that, for the year ending March 31, 2023, the LCBO provided $2.58 billion in dividends to the Ontario government; and, $14.6 million in donations “to support the health and well-being of Ontarians”.

Under a government plan, expected to be implemented from next month, thousands of private retailers will be allowed into the alcohol distribution network, selling beer, wine, and ready-to-drink cocktails at Ontario convenience stores.

By the end of October, fully licensed supermarkets and gas stations also will be able to sell the alcoholic beverages.

Ford has called for an end to the workers’ strike, while assuring that the LCBO “will remain a public asset”.

The LCBO, he added, “will continue to play a critical role in the new marketplace,” saying he wants the union “to get back to the bargaining table”.

“This strike should have never happened. We could have worked things out,” said Ford. “I fully believe the LCBO and OPSEU can reach a deal.”

Union leaders, such as Jamaican-born Babbington, are solidly on the side of the protesting workers and have expressed skepticism at the government’s LCBO plans.

“Workers’ fight for a fair deal is the fight to keep the LCBO in public hands,” said Babbington, the first Black woman to lead the TYRLC.

“We stand with OPSEU workers on strike,” she reiterated. “Tell the Ford government to give OPSEU members a fair deal and keep the LCBO public.”

Babbington appealed to Ontarians to show support to the LCBO employees by taking action such as joining the workers on a picket line.

She noted that money from LCBO alcohol sales “goes toward healthcare, education, housing, public infrastructure and more”.

Ford now is putting all benefits of the public ownership of the LCBO “at risk”, and privatization is the “next move’’ of the premier, Babbington charged.

“OPSEU workers are at the forefront of the fight for economic justice, as they fight for a fair deal and to keep the LCBO public,’’ she said. “Seventy percent of LCBO workers are casual, without guaranteed hours, most without benefits, and no opportunity to move into permanent part-time and full time positions. They are fighting to make LCBO jobs good jobs.”