Ont. liquor store strike averted, but spectre of dry summer fuelled record sales

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - A tentative deal reached Wednesday averted a strike at more than 600 Ontario liquor stores, but the spectre of a summer without spirits and imported wines caused a record-breaking run that left shelves barren and staff scrambling to restock.
With a strike deadline looming, restaurateurs and drinkers descended in droves on Liquor Control Board of Ontario outlets and swept up booze in unprecedented numbers, said spokesman Chris Layton.
"We actually had the largest single day of retail sales in the history of the LCBO," Layton said.
While $52 million in purchases were made with debit and credit cards, Layton said once cash purchases are tallied the one-day sales total could climb as high as $60 million.
Frantic shoppers, racing to get ahead of a 12:01 a.m. Wednesday strike deadline, ravaged the shelves of liquor stores around the province, leaving gaping holes where bottles wine and spirits once stood.
Talks were pushed past the midnight deadline and a deal was announced at 2:30 p.m.
"We're very happy there will be liquor flowing in the province this summer," said Don Ford, spokesperson for Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
The parties agreed to negotiate until a deal was reached or one or both parties walked away from the table, Ford said.
"Nobody wants a strike. We were quite prepared to go there if we didn't get the improvements we needed in the contract, but we did."
The Ontario branch of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, which works with the province's 32,500 restaurants, bars and caterers, was thrilled to hear about the tentative deal.
"We're very relieved that the industry is not going to be facing a strike this summer," said Stephanie Jones, vice-president of the association's Ontario branch.
"A disruption at this time of year, in particular, would be devastating."
The LCBO has 6,000 regular employees and up to 1,000 summer and seasonal employees, Ford said.
The key negotiating issue for the union was fighting for the rights of casual workers, who make up 60 per cent of the workforce, he added.
The union has said those employees don't receive vacation, sick time or benefits, and can be called in to work as little as two hours at a time.
The union's bargaining team unanimously agreed on the deal, but Ford declined to include more details until it is ratified by union members.
A source close to the talks says terms of the deal include benefits for casual workers and more opportunities for full-time, permanent jobs. Some employees, including seasonal workers, would also see a wage increase.
With a tentative deal in place, staff were left with the chore of restocking shelves that had been, in some instances, almost cleared of product.
A three-tiered shelf at the LCBO on Queen's Quay in Toronto stood with only three bottles of vodka Wednesday.

Organizations: Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association Queen's

Geographic location: Ontario, TORONTO

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