UE members in western Pennsylvania are adding their voices to those of state employees,
churches and consumers who oppose the privatization of state liquor stores. Meeting in
Erie on May 17, delegates to UE District Six Council took a strong stand against the state
store sell off and agreed to circulate petitions in their shops. District Pres. Dan Smith
urged delegate approval of the resolution.
Republican Gov. Thomas Ridge is the author and principal promoter of the sell-off
scheme, which critics say is nothing more than a payoff to wealthy supporters. To gain
support for the plan, Ridge pledged that the proceeds of the sale would be earmarked for
projects like libraries, museums, industrial parks and new sports arenas.
The public balked - and state store unions mounted an effective opposition - so
privatization bills have stalled in the state legislature. The Pennsylvania Council of
Churches, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and organized labor have led the resistance.
HARD BALL POLITICS
During the legislature's summer break, Ridge and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business
and Industry jointly mailed a letter to some 200 chambers of commerce asking for
assistance in lobbying the General Assembly. And the governor is playing hard-ball,
threatening to hold up capital improvements unless the state liquor stores are auctioned
UE District Six denounced the threatened privatization as unionbusting and advised Gov.
Ridge that "Payoffs to political cronies are no substitute for sound
The Rite Aid drugstore chain, a financial backer of Gov. Ridge, was a big beneficiary
of West Virginia's state liquor store privatization, points out John Thompson, District
political action co-chair. "If the state stores are sold off, it won't be mom and pop
operations that take advantage. It will be the big chains with the necessary
UE Local 506 members also voted overwhelmingly to support state store employees in
their fight to save union jobs. Speaking at the local's April meeting, Bus. Agent Pat
Rafferty recited the many reasons why a state-store sell-off would be bad for
Pennsylvania, pointing to public health and safety, availability of alcohol to minors and
revenues, as well as employment and union rights.
Local 506 Pres. Dave Adams has led the many UE members who have attended rallies in
Erie against privatization. Sean Lynch, the local's Legislative Action Committee
treasurer, and Donna Cramer, District Six political action co-chairperson, have worked
closely with the unions representing state store employees.
Amalgamated Local 690 circulated petitions in both Reid Plastics in Leetsdale and
Kenson Plastics in Warrendale. Several Kenson workers enthusiastically welcomed the
petitions because they personally know people who work in state liquor stores, said Local
Vice Pres. John Thompson.
'IT'S UNION BUSTING ... AND A POLITICAL PAYOFF'
In Reid, Thompson added, "people pretty much understand the issue, that it's
unionbusting and a political payoff to Gov. Ridge's supporters." Thompson encouraged
use of the District Six resolution with the petitions as an educational tool. "All
people are hearing is one-sided and pro-Ridge, making the governor's argument that the
state has no business in the liquor business." Local 690 participated in a Beaver
County Labor Council meeting with representatives from the state store unions.
"Hopefully when legislature reconvenes, our forces will be able to beat back
privatization again," Thompson said.
LOST LIVING WAGE JOBS
The UE District Six Council opposes privatization of state liquor stores because:
unionbusting. The stores' assistant managers and clerks are represented by four
locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW); the managers by the
Independent State Store Union; and Liquor Control Board office workers in Harrisburg by
the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Privatization means the
destruction of jobs at family-supporting wages. More than 4,000 workers would
lose their jobs to privatization. UFCW members - 75 percent of whom are at the top rate,
earning $13 an hour, with good benefits - would most likely be replaced by workers
receiving the minimum wage, without benefits.
If it's not broken, don't
fix it! State store operations are self-supporting: No taxpayer dollars are used
to fund the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). Pennsylvania's liquor stores produce
profits of $60-70 million each year and generate taxes totaling more than $175 million.
PLCB profits help fund the Pennsylvania State Police and other state agencies. Working
taxpayers can expect to make up for the lost revenue if the state stores are privatized.
There is less public
accountability with privatization. Private, profit-driven stores have less
incentive to prevent sales to minors; presently, Pennsylvania has 40% fewer youth-related
alcohol fatalities than in neighboring states and 44% fewer alcohol-related deaths under
21 than the national average.
One hundred percent of taxes collected by the PLCB are turned over to the Department of
Revenue; more than 90 percent of the privatized liquor stores in New Jersey owed back
taxes last year.
"Privatization of state liquor stores is bad for PLCB employees and bad for the
public," district council delegates said. "UE District Six opposes this attack
on family-supporting jobs and urges all locals and members to register their opposition
with their legislators."