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B.C. liquor store workers demand share of COVID-19 spike in booze sales

A group of liquor store and warehouse workers protested outside of Coquitlam MLA and Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s Austin Avenue office Wednesday calling on her to include them in a pandemic essential worker pay scheme
BC liquor store workers protest in Coquitlam
BC liquor store workers protest outside MLA and Finance Minister Selina Robinson's Coquitlam office off Austin Ave.

A group of liquor store and warehouse workers protested outside of Coquitlam MLA and Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s Austin Avenue office Wednesday demanding she include them in a pandemic essential pay scheme for essential workers.

“No Pay No Booze,” read a sandwich board strapped to one protestor. 

“Thank me with essential pay!” read another. 

The roughly 4,600 workers, who come from B.C. Liquor and cannabis retail stores as well as their warehouses, were among thousands declared “essential” last spring when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the province. 

But the workers were never included in the province’s Temporary Pandemic Pay program in place since May 2020, and have been calling on the government to give them a share bolstered sales.

“These rallies aren't just about financial acknowledgement of the risky conditions we've endured and record revenues we've helped generate during this pandemic,” said worker and B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) steward Erica Cardarelli in a written statement. 

“This is about our need to be treated fairly now and into the future, better than we have been treated long before COVID-19.”

Data from the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch revealed the wholesale value of alcohol sold rose to $606 million for March and April of last year — up 21.5% from the same period in 2018, and above the $516 million sold in 2019.

BC Liquor Stores “benefited from the sudden increase of consumer demand for alcoholic beverages when the Province declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) in its 2019/20 Annual Service Plan Report.

In September, the union which represents the workers asked that 20% of the excess revenue coming into the BCLDB be redirected to top up the essential workers' salaries — a proposal that would see workers' pay upped $4 per hour.

At a March 16 employee town hall, the union claims BCLDB CEO and General Manager Blain Lawson told them he had no power to authorize essential pay and directed them to the finance minister, according to a BCGEU press release.

Since then, the union says 1,700 emails have been sent to Minister Robinson.

“Our employer and the government are one and the same. We're just being passed back and forth between our direct employer and government, and neither is taking responsibility nor accountability for the relationship with us workers,” added the worker Cardarelli. 

“We've had enough of being messed around and gaslit.”

In a statement to the Tri-City News, Finance Minister Selina Robinson said she sympathized with workers but that the temporary pandemic pay program had limited funding and “we did our best to maximize the benefit to as many people as possible.”

She added: “The one-time top-up was meant to recognize workers on the frontlines in health care.” 

Robinson also pointed to the B.C. government's $5 million investment to improve safety at the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch, including installing Plexiglass barriers and hiring professional cleaners.

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