cascadia This article is more than 1 month old

Liquor Store Workers In Victoria Are On Strike. Here’s What They’re Fighting For.

The workers have been on strike since May 4, demanding fair wages to meet rising living costs.

Cascadia liquor store workers from three locations—Eagle Creek, Quadra Villages and Colwood—in Victoria, BC, have been on strike since May 4, 2024 for fair wages.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents the Cascadia workers, said most workers make between $18-19 per hour, which is almost $8 below a living wage in Victoria.

The liquor store workers voted overwhelmingly to strike following an insufficient initial offer by the company, Steve Fanning, SEIU organizer, told PressProgress.

Bargaining for any wage increases has been “slow and unproductive,” Fanning notes.

The union has also filed two complaints at the BC Labour Relations Board accusing the company of using replacement workers and bad faith bargaining by encouraging workers to cross the picket line, although the BCLRB has yet to make a ruling on either complaint.

BC is one of the only provinces with legislation that prevents employers from hiring replacement workers during a strike.

“They seem genuinely spiteful (towards) the workforce for unionizing. This attitude displayed by the employer is not the right way to go,” Fanning added.

Cascadia Liquor Store CEO Keith Barbon disputes the union’s complaints at the BCLRB:

“We continue to respect our employees’ right to strike and engage in lawful picketing activities. The Company also has a right to continue to run its business. We are doing our best to remain open and service our customers during the strike, while remaining in compliance with the Code,” Barbon told PressProgress.

“At Cascadia Liquor, one of our top priorities is to maintain a fair and respectful workplace for all our team members. It has always been our practice to ensure that team members are compensated fairly and that they are given the opportunity to express concerns and contribute suggestions within the company.”

Joey Olynyk, one of the striking Cascadia workers at Eagle Creek, told PressProgress the low wages have increased turnover significantly.

“We have dozens of employees getting hired and eventually quitting as they don’t get the needed hours and considerable pay. I am the only person who has worked for the company at our store for more than two years at this point,” Olynyk said.

Eight years ago, Olynyk had seen one or two employees working a secondary job, but now only two or three employees do not have a secondary job.

“The store hasn’t kept up with raising wages,” Olynyk says.

“I am striking to increase the base pay of the employees. I want them to stick around, as it is always unfortunate when you lose a good co-worker,” Olynyk said.

Olynyk said they are operating the store with managers, assistant managers and merchandisers, who typically examine the 13 stores to check the product displays.

“The company has taken down all the staff from call lists and they’re hiding email addresses, so we can’t communicate with each other,” says Olynyk.

For now, the workers are managing their expenses with the picket pay the union provides them and donations from the labour community.

“I spend 20-30 hours a week on the picket line. We are facing people who randomly choose to come up just to argue with you. We are not there to argue, we are fighting for better working conditions,” Oscar Towert, one of the striking workers at Quadra Village, told PressProgress.

Despite Towert taking out student loans and working part-time at Cascadia, he finds it hard to manage his living expenses.

“Everything—school, rent and living—is expensive,” Towert said.

“While working, we have to deal with intoxicated people, and when denied service, they start abusing us. Added to the woes, the employer got rid of security as it was expensive. But now, they have security at the picket line,” Towert told PressProgress.

The Cascadia Liquor stores and their parent company, the Truffles Group, seem to be more invested in fighting their workers by hiring replacements than investing in the workers they already have, Fanning added.

“We are talking about vulnerable workers, and the fact that they stay on the picket line for hours fighting for a fair wage is a testament to how much they need and deserve this raise,” Fanning said.

“The striking workers are moving the needle to raise the bar for the working class all over the place, especially in Victoria.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include a statement from Cascadia Liquor.

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Megavarshini G. Somasundaram
Labour Reporting Intern
Megavarshini G. Somasundaram is PressProgress' 2024 labour reporting intern and a Masters of Journalism student at UBC.

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