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Pennsylvania liquor store union’s watching for privatization

05.26.15

MAY 2015, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Edition of The Union News

Pennsylvania liquor store union’s watching for privatization

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, May 5th- The labor organization’s the represent employees of the State Wine and Spirits Stores are quietly optimistic that the selling-off of the system will not happen before the legislative session ends for the summer this June. However, they are still talking to legislators to ensure they don’t change their position regarding the privatization of the liquor system.

The pro-business anti-union Republican members of Pennsylvania General Assembly have been pushing for the selling-off of the system, which provides millions of dollars of profits for Pennsylvania. Net profits of the latest reporting period under the current system was $123.68 million on gross revenue of $2.27 billion, amounting to a net profit margin of 5.44 percent.

First-term Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf campaigned during his attempt to unseat Incumbent anti-union Republican Governor Tom Corbett in 2014 against the privatization of the 600-plus wine and spirit store system. Mr. Wolf made it clear he would veto any legislation that would sell-off the stores should it reach his desk wanting instead to modernized the system.

He has proposed a plan for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), which operates the system, to “modernized” the system by extending Sunday hours and Holiday sales, improve store locations, having more flexible pricing, create a system of competitive pricing, and more customer engagement. Under Mr. Wolf’s proposal he estimates the system would be even more profitable creating an additional annual profit of $185 million by fiscal 2018.

However, as expected Mr. Wolf’s plan was greeted was skepticism by Republicans, business-people that want to purchase a license, and some within the media, including Times-Shamrock Communications, the parent publishers ofthe Scranton Times-Tribune, the Citizens’ Voice, and the Hazleton Standard-Speaker.

The newspaper’s would benefit financially should the stores be privatized by creating advertising competition between license owners and perhaps even the publishers plan to purchase one of the licenses and go into the booze business. Recently, several family members of the publishers of Times-Shamrock became part owners of the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Railriders baseball team, breaking away from the media business.

The selling of the system will put more than 5,000 family sustaining jobs in harms way. The United Food and Commerical Workers (UFCW) Union represents the majority of the stores employees, including clerks and shelve stockers. UFCW Local 1776 represents the workers within the eastern part of Pennsylvania while UFCW Local 23 represents the western part. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union represents mainly the office employees of the system including the PLCB auditors.

Pro-privatization groups and individuals have stated selling more liquor would be good for Pennsylvania and even suggested that school funding could be increased by the selling of more booze.

The UFCW is concerned that allowing wine sales in grocery stores and other outlets, the largest volume of sales at the liquor stores, could be attached to other legislation before the summer recess, attempting a “back-door” privatization attempt.