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BCGEU strike a 'crushing blow' as shortages take hold, says restaurant and tourism industry

B.C. restaurants, hotels and liquor retailers are worried about revenue loss as the BCGEU strike continues at BC Liquor Distribution Branch warehouses.
Import alcohol could be a tough find in some places, as a strike blocks deliveries from government warehouses, as of Aug. 24, 2022.

B.C. restaurants and tourism sector businesses claim provincewide shortages of imported alcohol, spirits and ready-to-drink cans are growing each day because of the ongoing BCGEU strike.

In an open letter to Premier John Horgan and the BC General Employees' Union, the group is asking for a conclusion to the dispute, so products can move out of the government-sanctioned warehouses. 

The alliance says the warehouses have a hold of about 40% of all alcohol in B.C., with the rest coming from domestic suppliers with their own warehouse delivery.

Restaurants, bars, BC Liquor Stores, private liquor stores and cannabis retailers are all impacted.

The alliance stated Aug. 24 the BCGEU’s job action is “yet another crushing blow” to the hospitality and tourism sector, which is only beginning to recover from the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on venue capacity.

“This labour dispute has nothing to do with our sector; we’re collateral damage in this job action,” said Jeff Guignard, executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees (ABLE BC). “We support workers’ rights, but no one has the right to cause this much disruption and damage to industries not involved in negotiations.”

The alliance says businesses will soon begin to contemplate staff layoffs.

“Before the pandemic, B.C.’s hospitality and tourism sector was growing faster than the provincial economy as a whole, but we’ve suffered an inequitable share of pandemic-related setbacks over the past few years,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

“Now once again, our industries will unfairly bear the brunt of serious economic consequences including business closures and layoffs, cancelled events such as concerts and weddings, loss of consumer confidence, and damage to B.C.’s reputation among tourists and consumers,” said Tostenson.

Statistics provided by the alliance indicate B.C. restaurants still haven’t fully recovered from the pandemic restrictions. For the first four months of 2019, restaurant receipts totalled $4.3 billion compared with $3.8 billion (rounded numbers) for the first four months of 2022. In 2021, restaurant receipts totalled $3.2 billion for the same period.

In 2019, B.C.'s tourism industry generated some $22.3 billion in revenue and supported more than 250,000 jobs, the alliance claimed.

The alliance includes 19 industry associations, including ABLE BC, BC Chamber of Commerce, BC Craft Brewers Guild, BC Craft Ciders, BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, Beer Canada and Tourism Industry Association of BC.

The union represents 33,000 government employees across the province. On Monday, the union and the government said they were resuming contract talks.

The two sides appear far apart on wages, with the union asking for an increase pegged to inflation while the government is offering roughly 11% over three years plus a $2,500 bonus.

The last collective agreement expired on April 1.

Negotiations for a new contract started on Feb. 8 but reached an impasse on April 6. Members voted 95% in favour of job action on June 22.

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