TORONTO — Ontario’s liquor control board says a distribution delay that has left some store shelves bare will be resolved by Civic Holiday weekend, an estimate the head of the union representing its workers calls unrealistic.
The LCBO is apologizing Wednesday to its customers for the lingering distribution problems that occurred after a technology update at the agency’s Durham Retail Service Centre in mid-June.
The government agency said at the height of the disruption, 240 stores were impacted by the delivery delays, but that has now been reduced to 15 outlets.
“It is our sincere hope that LCBO shoppers are experiencing expected levels of customer service as we continue to resume regular operations,” CEO George Soleas said in a statement Wednesday.
The agency said it has been in regular contact with suppliers and wholesalers as well as workers represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union about the ongoing issues.
The LCBO has stressed that there were no supply shortages but acknowledged that deliveries were moving at a slower pace than usual.
OPSEU president Warren “Smokey” Thomas said front-line workers have told him that the distribution delay isn’t likely to be solved until September.
The agency’s target date to resolve the problem is “very, very ambitious and probably not a realistic assessment,” he said.
Thomas slammed the agency for implementing the new warehouse technology during the busy summer season and said staff at the impacted stores have experienced customer blowback firsthand.
“Some people weren’t quite so understanding,” he said. “I talked to some folks who described some pretty nasty verbal abuse. … It’s something that didn’t need to happen.”
Thomas claims the agency was warned by workers about problems with new warehouse technology earlier this year when it was tested, but that advice was ignored.
“Somebody made a big mistake and ignored the advice of people who do the work on the front lines,” he said. “The workers tell you it won’t work and you go ahead and do it anyway.”
Soleas denies that the LCBO ignored worker warnings about the new technology.
“We would never knowingly make decisions that put the customer experience at risk,” he said. “Any comments that indicate other motivations, or look to politicize the situation, are irresponsible.”
Thomas also criticized the LCBO’s lack of communication with consumers regarding the delivery problems.
The Progressive Conservative government should insist that the agency give a full public accounting of the problem and how it will be solved, he said.
“At the end of the day, it’s still not fixed,” he said. “(Premier) Doug Ford keeps talking about convenience. I guess this will be the summer of inconvenience for customers.”
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press