Liquor rations have customers fuming as BCGEU job action continues

“Today we’re asking both sides to get back to the table immediately and find a deal because this is now impacting BC’s entire $15-billion liquor industry … and 200,000 workers that we employ.” — Jeff Guignard, executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees

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Shoppers were upset Saturday after a major union’s job action forced them to ration their liquor purchases at government-run retailers.

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Although British Columbians are now confined to buying three of the same item, with the exception of beer, it was the lack of products on store shelves that was the cause for frustration.

“I couldn’t even get what I came for,” one woman told Postmedia upon exiting a BC Liquor Store location in East Vancouver.

“The only thing I drink, Okanagan apple cider, was sold out. I was forced to buy another kind —— I’m not happy about it.”

Another customer, a man, told Postmedia he bought two bottles of Smirnoff vodka as the product’s larger variety he normally buys was sold out.

“The shelves are getting empty,” he said, noting the “temporarily unavailable” tag that labeled many areas of empty stock in the store.

The BC Liquor Distribution Branch’s rationing order came as 33,000 members of the BC General Employees Union launched limited job action, including pickets around the liquor distribution outlets, to back contract demands that include wage protection against inflation.

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Picketing began Monday afternoon at four BCL distribution centers — in Delta, Kamloops, Richmond and Victoria. Last Friday, the BCGEU handed the province 72 hours’ strike notice after months of bargaining.

The LDB said the “modest” limitations are meant to ensure there is enough liquor to go around “for as many customers as possible.”

In a statement Friday, Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon urged everyday customers against panic buying, encouraging them to “respect the purchase limits implemented to support equity.”

“Not everyone has the same capacity to make large purchases and we don’t want customers being at a disadvantage,” Kahlon said.

For Vancouver’s private retailers, bars and pub owners, the employment irresolution has ignited a new worry.

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Simon Fallick, the owner of The American and Hero’s Welcome, said if the job action continues for longer than two weeks, his next warehouse order could leave him short of vodka.

“Everyone who has a liquor license has to purchase from the government, all imported items going through their warehouses. Since the vodka we use, Absolut, is from Sweden, this break in the supply chain is a nuisance,” Fallick said.

“Thankfully, most of our business is based on selling local beer and wine.”

A person's purchases are seen in a shopping cart at a government-run BC Liquor Store in Vancouver, on Friday, August 19, 2022. British Columbia's Finance Ministry says government-run liquor stores are implementing limits on alcohol sales in response to job action affecting Several distribution outlets, effective immediately.
A person’s purchases are seen in a shopping cart at a government-run BC Liquor Store in Vancouver, on Friday, August 19, 2022. British Columbia’s Finance Ministry says government-run liquor stores are implementing limits on alcohol sales in response to job action affecting Several distribution outlets, effective immediately. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Jeff Guignard, executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees, said that imported drinks will likely be the first to run dry on the shelves of private liquor stores.

“Customers are going to start seeing stock-outs this weekend,” Guignard said, noting that BC beer, spirits and cider are less affected.

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He said some retailers had experienced limited “panic buying” as a result of the strike action, and news of the rationing could make it worse.

“Today we’re asking both sides to get back to the table immediately and find a deal because this is now impacting BC’s entire $15-billion liquor industry, thousands of small businesses and 200,000 workers that we employ.”

Although most private liquor stores do not intend to impose similar purchasing limits, one Vancouver retailer, Legacy Liquor Store, has opted to restrict customers’ daily purchases to 12 bottles of wine and six bottles of spirits.

— with files from The Canadian Press

sgrochowski@postmedia.com

twitter.com/sarahgrochowski


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