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Manitoba liquor employees extend strike action to Saturday, as MBLL hires replacement workers

Unionized workers with Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries stayed off the job provincewide on Friday — and are planning to do the same on Saturday — accusing the Crown corporation of hiring replacement workers.

“Our members want respect, but now, by hiring replacement workers, the corporation is resorting to divisive, bullying tactics that do nothing to help resolve this situation,” Kyle Ross, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU), said in a news release.

In an emailed statement Friday, the Crown corporation confirmed it has begun to employ contract workers to keep the liquor flowing at its distribution centre.

“Manitobans expect liquor products to be available when they want and need them,” MBLL president and CEO Gerry Sul said in the statement.

“We will consider reasonable and necessary steps to minimize disruption for all customers, including our affected business partners.”

The statement goes on to say the corporation is working to maintain a minimum level of service, with non-unionized staff working in other roles to serve its customers, including restaurants and bars.

A spokesperson said last week that the corporation would not participate in any interviews about the strike action, instead directing the public to check for bargaining updates on the website.

Some of the 1,400 MGEU members who work at retail Liquor Marts around the province as well as the distribution centre on King Edward Street in Winnipeg have held several days of job action since July 19.

MGEU earlier this week agreed to the corporation’s request to bring in a conciliator in an effort to find a settlement in the contract dispute. However, the union said it would continue striking until it gets a fair wage offer.

The workers’ last contract expired in March 2022.

Liquor & Lotteries has offered a four-year contract with two per cent wage increases each year, with additional bumps to ensure those at the bottom end of the pay scale get legislated minimum wage increases.

Ross has said 3.3 per cent would be fair, as it is tied to the consumer price index. Premier Heather Stefanson and other elected officials will receive exactly that this year and another 3.6 per cent in 2024, he said.

“We have seen zero signs that the premier is serious about reconsidering her government’s rigid wage restrictions,” Ross said in the news release about the replacement workers.

“Premier Stefanson could simply free up MBLL and its workers to bargain a fair deal and end this strike. Instead, she is stubbornly choosing to maintain her wage mandate — a self-serving double standard that sticks front-line workers with two per cent increases while she and her cabinet ministers take 3.3 per cent, 3.6 per cent and 3.6 per cent.”

Liquor & Lotteries earns hundreds of millions of dollars in profits every year, Ross said.

“It can afford fair and reasonable increases for its workers. Unfortunately, the Stefanson government won’t allow it.”

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