Liquor Mart strike impacting rural booze supply

Karen Low will be drinking water at her family dinner Saturday night.

The Albertan visiting Manitoba wasn’t privy to a provincewide strike by liquor store workers when she arrived in the Prairie province, and when she went to pick up an array of wines to go with dinner, she was left high and dry.

“This is apocalyptic,” she said in the aisles of Lockport Grocery General Store & Liquor Vendor among dwindling shelves of spirits.

“If we’d known we would have brought out some but we didn’t know until today.”

As a strike by the Manitoba Government & General Employees’ Union enters its fourth week, with nearly one week under a full strike mandate, rural and private liquor stores are struggling to keep up with the demand for booze.

Kristopher Faires, owner of Lockport Grocery, said he’s sent his employees in an SUV and a pickup truck to take loads of whatever they can get their hands on from the few Liquor Marts still open in the city.

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“There’s only so much you can do when stores are only open 12 to 5,” he said.

As of Saturday, only two Liquor Mart stores in Winnipeg are open to the public: the location in Crestview and another in St. Vital Square.

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MGEU president Kyle Ross said the strike will continue until the union receives what it feels is a fair offer from the Crown corporation. The current offer stands at a two per cent raise over the next four years, while the union says it won’t accept anything less than what Premier Heather Stefanson and her cabinet are receiving — 3.3 per cent in 2023 and 3.6 in 2024.

Faires said while the strike bodes well for his sales — he’s seeing a lot of people come out to the rural location from Winnipeg to find what they’re looking for — it’s been taxing on his staff.

“Even when we get larger deliveries in the normal times it takes a good day to get everything sorted and figured out, so there’s been schedule adjustments, overtime for staff … spur-of-the-moment things when we’re able to get items and go shop at stores,” he said.

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries president Gerry Sul said the strike may become unsustainable for the Crown corporation as it’s hired replacement workers to run locations while union members are picketing.

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“We’re relying and leaning on the same people day over day, and of course they’ve been very dedicated and doing that. But again, we know what the expectations are for our Manitobans and we’ve got to keep it going and sustain this,” he told 680 CJOB.

Faires said while he wants to see workers offered a fair deal, he feels for customers who can’t buy what they want or need during the dog days of summer.

“We’re trying to get a little bit of everything and just try to appease everyone the best we can with what we can get from the Liquor Marts right now,” Faires said.

“It’s not an ideal shopping situation for our customers but it’s better than nothing.”

The owner said it’s “quite possible” they’ll run out of booze by the end of the weekend as open Liquor Mart stores are limiting what customers can buy to be fair to everyone.

On Saturday afternoon Low considered replacing the wine she wanted with dinner with anything she could get her hands on, including coffee liqueur.

“A girl’s gotta do what she’s gotta do.”

with files from Katherine Dornian

Click to play video: 'Manitoba Liquor Mart employees take picket line to premier’s constituency office'

Manitoba Liquor Mart employees take picket line to premier’s constituency office

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