Liquor Mart strike plan hangs rural communities out to dry, mayors say

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries is leaving many rural communities parched while it tries to deal with a strike by its 1,400 workers across the province, leaders outside the Perimeter Highway say.

The Crown corporation’s current contingency plan is keeping a handful of Liquor Marts in Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson operating with limited hours, but has closed all of its other locations indefinitely.

The strike dragged into its second full day Wednesday.

Beausejour Mayor Ray Schirle said people from communities without open Liquor Marts are driving to private vendors across rural Manitoba in hopes of finding booze.

Schirle is well-versed in the industry — he co-owns a campground resort with a private liquor vendor in Lac du Bonnet — and is watching the strike closely. If the strike were to end tomorrow, consumers and sellers in rural areas would be worse off than those in Winnipeg, he said.

“To get distribution back where everybody’s got stock, they’re going to fill up (Winnipeg) stores first, and rural Manitoba stores, they’re going to get second fiddle. That’s always (how it) has worked in the past,” he said.

“I don’t know how rural Manitoba stores are gonna get stocked, because the supply chain is so disrupted now. It’s going to take weeks, if not months.”

In Lac du Bonnet, Mayor Ken Lodge said rotating closures that began at outlets in July had little impact on the town’s population of just over 1,000, but the full strike has him increasingly concerned.

“When you’re a small community, especially a small rural community, where the options are few, where the population is small, where the distances are large to get anywhere, you can understand it’s a major, major issue,” he said.

The closure of the lone Liquor Mart will have a trickle-down effect the longer it remains closed, he said. People visiting cottage country will often spend their money at other places while on the hunt to purchase alcohol.

“It’s been one of those situations where it’s kind of unique in the sense that you now have, almost effectively, the effects of prohibition without actually having strived for it,” Lodge said.

MLL offer includes signing bonuses

There was no movement in conciliation talks between the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union and MLL Tuesday afternoon, MGEU president Kyle Ross said, and called MLL president Gerry Sul’s comments suggesting the extent of the Crown corporation’s offer to members wasn’t being fully made clear “patronizing and insulting.”

“Our members know what fairness looks like and they have already made it clear that what’s on the table now does not come close to fair,” Ross said Wednesday.

A press release from MLL Wednesday included an infographic explaining the corporation’s current monetary offer, quoting Sul saying Manitobans “deserve to understand the real facts” about the strike, implying the union’s comments were caused by a “broader public agenda.”

Signing bonuses for employees who worked between 330 and 749 hours in the year prior to ratification would receive $600, those who worked up to 1,499 hours would receive $800 and those who worked more than 1,500 hours in the year prior would receive $1,000.

While MLL is offering a two per cent annual wage increase over four years, the infographic shared by MLL describes its offer as a 24.55 per cent wage increase over four years.

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