On Thursday, members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2505, which represents just under 200 employees at the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, voted to authorize a strike.
That doesn’t mean they’ll strike. But such a move is the first hint that workers might strike if they don’t get their way at the bargaining table.
The OLCC ships most of its alcohol to licensed sellers from a Milwaukie warehouse. If a strike were to occur, alcohol shipments from that warehouse would come to a halt. The OLCC generates the third-highest revenues of any agency in the state, behind only the Oregon Department of Revenue (taxes) and the Oregon Lottery (gaming).
The union’s current contract expires today but was reupped until July 30 and will likely continue getting 30-day extensions so long as negotiations continue.
Steve Sander, Local 2505′s president, says OLCC upper management has piled additional job responsibilities on workers since the pandemic. The agency’s job vacancy rate wobbles between 18% and 20%, according to Sanders—and has been that way since the pandemic. Sander says the agency has been unwilling to compromise on differential pay.
“In the warehouse, we have lead workers opening and closing the warehouse. There’s a lot of product and a lot of liability in there,” Sander says. “The other thing is vacant positions, so workers have been doubling up on [work duties].”
Agency officials say they’re having the same workforce recruiting troubles as everybody else. “We respect our local table partners and will continue to work with them; we are optimistic that our collaborative efforts will result in a mutually beneficial agreement,” says agency spokesman Mark Pettinger. “The state of Oregon’s across-the-board vacancy rate hovers around 20%, so like other state agencies, OLCC has found hiring in the current market to be challenging.”
The OLCC is amid two ongoing scandals. Earlier this year, the harboring of rare and limited bottles of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon by top agency officials became public, resulting in a criminal investigation. Then, not two months later, WW first reported on a political scandal that called into question the integrity of an audit of the agency performed by the Secretary of State’s Office that appears to have been crafted to the wants of the second-largest cannabis dispensary chain in the state. That, too, is the subject of a state-led investigation.