JULY 2013, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Edition of The Union News
State Store System survives until at least the fall legislative session
BY PAUL TUCKER
REGION, July 1st- Pennsylvania Minority Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa led it be known if Republican Governor Tom Corbett gets his wish of the privatization of the state’s very profitable liquor store system it will be without the support of his party.
The Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Pennsylvania Senate, 27 to 23. However, at least four Republican Senators have supported the labor community in the past and may not vote for privatization.
The State Senate is the last hope for the labor organizations that represent workers of the Pennsylvania’s approximately 600 state-operated wine and liquor stores to save their members jobs from becoming a casualty of Governor Corbett’s push for privatization.
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed the Republican plan to phase-out the ownership of the state operated stores and sell licenses to private businesses in May. The legislation would allow some grocery stores and beer distributors to sell liquor.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) currently operates the wine and spirits shops and employ more than 5,000 workers.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union represents the majority of the workers which are employed as clerks and shelve stockers.
The Independent State Store Union (ISSU) represent most lower supervisors of the system and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union represent mainly office employees including the PLRB auditors.
Under Mr. Corbett’s plan all 600-plus state stores would be closed and the employees would be fired. In place licenses to sell wine and liquor would be sold to generate revenue. Under the plan Pennsylvania public education would be financed by booze sales. The plan of privatization included using the revenue from the selling of the system to fund public education and programs that Mr. Corbett cut in previous budgets.
However, because of the failure of the Senate not taking any action on the privitization issue, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly recessed for the summer without passing any anti-union bills regarding the liquor store system. Mr. Corbett plans to “revisit” the privitization issue in the fall and is hopeful to dismantle it after the Legislature reconvenes.
The PLRB state store system creates approximately $500 million in profits and taxes a year for Pennsylvania, which benefits all taxpayers.
The was pressure being applied to Republican State Senators by Mr. Corbett, their party leaders, and those in business that want a piece of the profits of the selling of liquor was high leading-up to the summer recess. The labor organizations that represent the states stores employees were hoping the Republican Senators that have express reservations of selling the state-stores would not weaken from the pressure. Supporters of selling the system have not yet given a good reason why increasing liquor sales to citizens would be a good thing for Pennsylvanians other than it would create more revenue for profiteers and businesses.
Mr. Costa stated the 23 members of his party are united in supporting a plan to modernize the liquor system not privatizing it. He added that the Democratic votes are for keeping the 600-plus state stores and improving them by expanding hours and improved flexibility in pricing.
Wendell Young, President of UFCW Local 1776, Plymouth Meeting, stated clearly selling the system would replace many good paying family sustaining jobs with lower paying jobs.
Supporters of selling the state stores are led by pro-business groups, profiteers and the corporate owned main-stream media members which are unfriendly to labor unions.
Many of the daily pro-business anti-worker newspapers throughout the state have editorialized in favor of privitization including the Scranton Times-Tribune and the Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice.