11/27/2012 05:17 EST | Updated 01/27/2013 05:12 EST

Manitoba Liquor Commission 'Salvage Sale' Ends For Workers

WINNIPEG - Manitoba liquor commission workers feel the government agency is being a Grinch this Christmas by cancelling a long-standing tradition — the annual employee sale of discount liquor deemed unfit to sell in stores.

It hasn't been publicized, but for more than 25 years every holiday season, workers have been able to buy bottles of wine, beer and spirits that could not be put on the shelves of the government-run stores. Some bottles might have damaged or missing labels, some were in cases with other bottles that broke or froze, and some were approaching their best-before date.

The salvage sale was actually a way for the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission to recoup some money, according to one worker who spoke to The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity.

"As opposed to just pouring it down the drain and crushing the bottles, which costs a lot of money, this was all based on cost-recovery," the worker said Tuesday.

The amount up for sale would vary every year and be allotted equally among all agency workers, from top managers to retail employees. In an average year, a worker might get access to a half-dozen bottles of wine, an equal amount of hard stuff, and maybe 18 beer or coolers, the employee said.

Bottles of wine or liquor would go for $6 or $7, while the beer would usually sell for just under $1 per bottle.

That has changed this year, prompted by the liquor commission's recent merger with the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation.

"The merger ... presents many opportunities for business improvements and considerable challenges to co-ordinate and equalize each organization's distinct employee programs and traditions," reads a memo issued to employees Nov. 14 and obtained by The Canadian Press. The memo was written by Roman Zubach, the liquor agency's chief operating officer.

"Due to a strong desire to explore new options relative to non-saleable liquor products, the practice of holding an employee salvage sale will be discontinued effectively immediately."

The Manitoba Government and General Employees Union would not comment on the cancellation Tuesday, but did confirm that it has filed a grievance in an attempt to revive the salvage sale.

The liquor commission would not say why the sale was cancelled, but called the decision part of the merger process.

"It's really on the basis of a whole bunch of extensive reviews and analysis of all of our internal programs and processes, and trying to make sure that everything is looked at on a broad level," commission spokesperson Karen Hiebert said.

The worker said the drive to cancel the discount booze sale appears to stem from a drive to level the playing field with employee benefits at the lotteries commission.

"They don't get discount lottery tickets."

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