By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — If the Corbett administration privatizes the state-controlled liquor and spirits business, it’s debatable whether a new contract with liquor store employees can be enforced.
Union officials maintain the contract would apply if the state sold its liquor business because of certain broad language.
But the state said the contract doesn’t preclude privatization, and it would have no way to enforce the contract, if a private business employed the workers.
The agreement with liquor store clerk union United Food and Commercial Workers, which affects around 2,800 employees, reduces state spending by around $28.5 million from the previous contract. It was signed this week, according to the state Department of Administration.
The UFCW contract, which is retroactive through 2011, lasts through July 1, 2015.
UFCW Local 1776 President Wendell Young IV said certain language in the contract implies that private businesses would have to hire former state employees at the same rates.
“The obligation is on the commonwealth of Pennsylvania to obligate the private employers to do that,” Young said.
It comes down to what the negotiated parties intended, Young said, adding that under this contract, it would be difficult for the state to privatize the system run under the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
Dan Egan, spokesman for the Department of Administration, said the legal interpretation of the contract and past case law show the contract is not enforceable if privatization moves forward.
“The terms of this contract cannot be assigned to another entity,” he said. “That’s not to say store employees may not continue to be organized. But it won’t be this contract. They would negotiate something else.”
The new contract includes an increase in employee contributions to their health benefits from 3 percent to 5 percent and a 4 percent wage increase within the next four years.
The average liquor store clerk makes around $31,000 a year, with around $21,000 in benefits, according to Department of Administration figures from this year.
Another contract for the Independent State Stores Union, which represents around 700 liquor store managers, is still in negotiations.
Legislative efforts to privatize the state’s liquor stores through selling off store licenses failed in June, but it remains a popular agenda item for Gov. Tom Corbett and leading lawmakers, including state Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny.