The BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), a large public sector unions in B.C., has taken strike action at four B.C. liquor distribution centres across the province.
The union is calling for wage compensation matching the labour demand and rising inflation rates for BCGEU members. However, with talks between the union and government stalled, some small businesses are paying the price.
The strike follows a labour dispute that BCGEU President, Stephanie Smith, tells news outlets is about “wage protection.” The union says they are seeking wage increases that correlate with the rising inflation and living costs. The strike began Monday, August 15.
The second week of job action sees the union calling on members to refuse overtime, with the exception of B.C. Wildfire Service employees. The union is looking for higher wages and acknowledgment of their heavy workloads with this action.
In an update posted on August 19, the Alliance of Beverage Licensees (ABLE BC) issued a statement to its members saying liquor purchases are being limited at all Government B.C. liquor stores. “B.C. Liquor Stores will limit customers to purchasing no more than three of any individual item (i.e. SKU) per day,” ABLE BC says in the letter. “Restrictions will apply to all products — except import and domestic beer — and will remain in place until the Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) distribution centres resume operations.”
The B.C. liquor store in Revelstoke displays a notice relaying a similar message.
Scramble to find liquor supply
The ripple effect of the strike is felt around the province, with consumers limited in their purchases and businesses struggling with supply shortages. Josh McLafferty, owner of Monashee Spirits Craft Distillery, a popular cocktail bar and distillery in Revelstoke, explains that the closure of the B.C. liquor distribution centres impacts everyone shopping at B.C. liquor stores, including bars and restaurants.
McLafferty says the B.C. government runs the Liquor Distribution Brand (LDB), responsible for liquor sales. “They supply all the alcohol to everywhere in B.C.,” he says.
The LDB provides both B.C. Liquor Stores and private stores with stock from distribution centres. Distribution has come to a halt because of the union’s strike action. Fortunately, private liquor stores and businesses can also buy direct from local B.C. breweries, distilleries and wineries, such as Monashee Spirits Craft Distillery and Mt. Begbie Brewing Co. Businesses cannot buy products from private liquor stores if the B.C. liquor store runs out.
This regulation leaves businesses to rely on B.C. Liquor Stores for most of their products, especially imported liquor. With the distribution centres shut down due to the job action, McLafferty says it will negatively affect his business and other businesses he supports as a local distillery.
When asked if he thinks restaurants in town will have to close due to the liquor and other products shortage if the strike continues, McLafferty says, “Absolutely.”
He explains that a lot of businesses with restaurants make their margins off of the sale of alcohol. If the shortage continues, McLafferty says he will have to adjust business hours and shift the menu to be more heavily supported by Monashee Distillery products as supplies dwindle.
“It’s gonna hurt some of these restaurants if they have to start dropping alcohol off their menus,” he says.
In an interview with Mountaineer staff, a manager at Cheers Liquor Stores’ downtown location said their stores will not be putting limits in place now. However, the manager says they expect to run out of products “just like everyone else” if the strike continues.
For Revelstoke’s Mt. Begbie Brewing Co., the problem looks a little different.
“We rely on the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch to distribute all of our packaged beer (bottles/cans) to government liquor stores and private liquor stores throughout the province (with the exception of private liquor stores in Revelstoke),” says the brewery’s co-owner and business manager, Tracey Larson in an email.
Larson says that the distribution centre closures negatively impact their business during their peak beer selling season.
“In our scenario, we ship pallets of beer to either the LDB warehouse in Kamloops or Delta and they, in turn, deliver it to their own stores and all of the private stores in the province. This has all been halted because of the strike.” Larson says. “This has resulted in a large loss of revenue for us.”
Larson says Mt. Begbie Brewing staff are doing their best to self-distribute the beer to private liquor stores such as Cheers in downtown Revelstoke but are limited by a shortage of delivery vehicles and staff members. In addition, Larson says the brewery cannot deliver directly to the B.C. Liquor Store in Revelstoke — even though their stock is dwindling — because of the LDB regulations.
“After two years of Covid, fire travel restrictions last summer, highway closures due to flooding in November, and staff shortages, this is yet another setback for the survival of a small business in B.C.,” Larson says.