UFCW approves of changes to Ontario's Beer Store ownership structure

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In a surprise announcement yesterday, Ontario's Beer Store says that smaller Ontario brewers will gain greater access to both the Beer Stores' stock shelves and boardroom. 

UFCW Canada, which represents Beer Store workers, says that it approves of the changes, calling it a "new era" for the Beer Store.

"The changes mean more input and opportunity for Ontario-brewers and more choice for Ontario consumers at the lowest average retail beer prices in Canada," said Rob Edwards, president of UFCW Canada Local 12R24, which represents more than 6,000 Local 12R24 members work at The Beer Store retail and warehouse locations in Ontario.

The announcement comes in the wake of recent slew of public outcry over foreign ownership of what was once an Ontario-owned brewers' cooperative. The Beer Store announced that it will implement a series of changes to accommodate a growing demand for locally brewed craft beer.

Small brewers who sell fewer than one million litres per year at the Beer Store will pay no listing fee when stocking two of their products at the five Beer Store locations closest to their brewery. Beyond those five stores, small brewers will be able to list the same two products at any additional Beer Store location at reduced listing fees.

Small brewers will also be able to introduce seasonal brands twice a year at no additional cost. 

The Beer Store is also implementing a new ownership structure that includes three new board member seats reserved for Ontario microbrewers, while the 13 remaining seats will be reserved for brewing giants Labatt, Molson and Sleeman.

Though all three brewers were originally Ontario-based, they have since been absorbed by international conglomerates. However, all three companies maintain large breweries and distribution operations in Ontario, most of which are unionized.

Under the new structure, new brewers who buy into the Beer Store's ownership structure will pay the exact same fees as the current owners, while smaller brewers will pay discounted fees to become owners and will not be required to fund certain costs relating to capital investment in new stores or pension and benefits plans.

However, some micro-brewers expressed their skepticism and dissatisfaction with the announcement.

On Facebook, Ontario brewer Beau's All Natural wrote, "The changes announced have not been done in consultation with craft brewers -- this is a surprise. We don't have enough information to say what the offer of ownership really means."

Likewise, Cam Heaps, Chairman of the Ontario Craft Brewers association, which represents about 50 Ontario micro-breweries, said that the change "certainly does not address our major issue of improving access for consumers. Before we can comment, we need more information; we have a lot of questions."

In recent months, Beer Store faced a flurry of criticism after the Toronto Star revealed that the privately-owned distributor had been receiving monopoly rights in Ontario's otherwise publicly owned liquor market. According to an agreement made by Mike Harris' Conservative government and the Beer Store in 2000, the LCBO was restricted to selling six-packs while leaving bigger denominations to the Beer Store.

According to the Beer Store, the new changes are effective immediately. 

Ella Bedard is rabble's labour intern. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People. She now lives in Toronto where she enjoys chasing the labour beat, biking and birding.


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