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The strike underway since July 19 at Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries (MBLL) reveals a latent tension in Manitoba. The North Star gathered testimonies from anonymous workers, evoking a conflict that has been going on since 2017, when MBLL employees received only a 1.75% wage increase over four years.
Between 2017 and 2021, MBLL employees have seen a significant reduction in their purchasing power. What's more, their workplace safety has never been guaranteed. Violence is a constant for Liquor Mart employees, culminating in 2019 with a series of increasingly aggressive robberies. Mass armed robberies would leave workers in constant fear for their safety on every shift.
"Holy moly, had we never been so underpaid in our entire life. I witnessed a foot-long machete come through the store, right past a pregnant woman." An anonymous worker told North Star. "We needed a full-time person just to be doing incident reports. We could be doing up to 16 or more in a day."
"There was a lot of tension and stress. Some people would go on stress leave after an incident."
The MBLL workers are frustrated with the government. They say it "wasn’t and still isn’t doing much to help the people struggling to survive in our community. Even though the implementation of the [controlled entrance] doors has kept a lot of incidents from occurring inside of the store, we still witness a lot of people suffering right outside of our store."
In 2018 there was an average of 10-20 robberies per day in Winnipeg Liquor Marts. During this time, workers had to worry about themselves and others being hit by bottles, ice blocks thrown into the store, strollers being pushed to the ground, dogs being let loose in the store and even the threat of being stabbed.
Liquor Mart worker, Krisjan McNeill spoke at a rally about how MBLL treated their workers during the pandemic, "we were deemed vital, critical, everything but essential as to not be classified as so to receive the benefits of being an essential worker. We remained open coming to work every day under uncertain times when other businesses were restricted from staying open. We were very profitable being the majority source of revenue during the pandemic for the province."
"The pandemic went on for a long time, there should have been more recognition or incentive... And all of these things, and now this [the employer's offer], and it's a slap in the face, an F you. I'm at a loss for words over this. We're talking cents, essentially, we're fighting for cents. What do you mean they can't give us a bigger raise?"
"I am disappointed that our company is fighting us so hard. Now they are lying and twisting the reality of the situation to make it look like to the public that the union doesn’t have our back and has somehow forced us to go through this strike."
"At the same time, I think if I leave now, they are just going to make it much harder for the next person that comes along, so I am not going to let them get me down...This is a very critical time in history where workers need to remind those at the top that we are more important than their short-term profits!"