To the editor:
Big changes have come to B.C. liquor stores. The changes are long overdue.
On Good Friday, about 120 of B.C.’s public liquor stores were open on a statutory holiday for the first time. Other changes were also introduced this month—shopping hours have been extended, more than 130 stores will be open on Sundays and eventually many more public stores will be offering refrigerated products.
Our union (BCGEU) has lobbied government for these changes and we welcome them. This is an important modernization of the B.C. liquor store system in keeping with modern, responsible attitudes around drinking.
Public liquor stores should remain central to this ongoing modernization. They have a long tradition of better pricing, better selection, knowledgeable staff and social responsibility. The public distribution and retailing of alcohol also produces important public revenue, the majority of which is generated in the public stores. At the same time, B.C. liquor stores provide good jobs all across our province.
The Liquor Distribution Branch has also introduced a new wholesale pricing model. We have been assured by LDB management that public store prices will remain largely unchanged. However, there is still uncertainty around the new pricing system.
While we welcome the modernization of the retailing operations, our union will be paying close attention as it rolls out. This new pricing system must allow public liquor stores to remain competitive. At the same time, the pricing system should ensure that public liquor store jobs remain stable and secure. In this difficult economy, these jobs need to be protected.
Public liquor store salaries are often grossly exaggerated by our opponents. Let’s set the record straight. While some of our experienced, full-time members make in the region of $20 an hour, many of the store workers you see, especially in the busy summer months and December, earn about $15 an hour. Across all Liquor Distribution Branch operations, including retail as well as LDB headquarters and warehouses, the average annual salary is about $42,000. These are good wages, but they certainly are not lavish wages.
We will also be looking to see if the new pricing model protects public revenues generated through liquor distribution and retailing. These revenues pay for services on which we all rely, so we also need to increase these revenues in a socially responsible way.
There is also uncertainty around the provincial government’s decision to allow the sale of alcohol in grocery stores. Many public stores are already located near existing grocery stores. These public liquor stores will now be open seven days a week and on holidays, just like nearby grocery stores.
Our union does not see the need for grocery store liquor sales. However, if the government is determined to bring liquor sales into grocery stores, we believe these “stores within a store” should be staffed by experienced B.C. liquor store employees. Our members have a record of responsible retailing, including checking identification to prevent sales to underage drinkers, fundraising for important causes and our members are a key part of the annual Dry Grad campaign.
The provincial government believes these new regulations and pricing system will level the playing field between private and public liquor sales. Another change needs to be implemented to truly level the playing field. Private liquor stores can advertise and most of us have seen a flyer from a local private liquor store. Public liquor stores are prevented from advertising. Advertising is key part of successful, modern retailing. Preventing the public stores from advertising makes about as much sense as closing on Sundays. The advertising prohibition belongs to an earlier age with different attitudes, and should be lifted.
B.C. has been well served by our public liquor distribution and retailing system for generations. It deserves to be a central part of the system in the future.
Stephanie Smith, president,
BC Government Employees Union