JAK’s Beer Wine Spirits’ Maple Ridge location unionizes—could it start a trend?

The retailer's staff put it to a vote last week.

Staff at JAKs Maple Ridge location voted to unionize last week

The retailer’s staff put it to a vote last week

A Maple Ridge liquor store has reportedly become the first B.C. retail outlet to unionize during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seventy-five percent of the staff at JAK’s Beer Wine Spirits’ Maple Ridge location voted to join the Burnaby-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2 last week.

“We were all confident that we’d win our union, and we remain confident in our collective strength,” said Quentin Rowe-Codner, who has worked at the store for more than two years, in a release from the union. “Being part of a union will ensure that, going forward, we as employees will finally have a seat at the table when it comes to our working lives. This is a tremendous victory that we are all very proud of.”

Another JAK’s employee, Daylan Kellough, said that “during the vote week, it was very clear that management was worried about other stores wanting to follow our example.”

To that end, the company released the following statement to BCBusiness: “At JAK’s we offer a competitive total compensation package, including dental and medical benefits with 100% of premiums paid for staff who work over 24 hours a week, which is rare in retail. We also provide each staff member a professional development allowance, along with wine, beer and spirits education and certifications. Ultimately, we respect the wishes of our employees and will work with the union moving forward.”

But it’s fair to wonder if the fourth-generation family business, currently run by John, Matt and Damian Kettlewell, is feeling the heat.

The company operates 15 locations across B.C., plus two Muse Cannabis shops.

When the pandemic saw liquor store staff deemed essential workers, SEIU Local 2 launched a nationwide campaign to unionize them. The organization already represents employees throughout the province in the liquor production and retail industry, at businesses like Granville Island Brewing Co., Mission Hill Family Estate winery, Molson Coors Fraser Valley Brewery and Okanagan Spring Brewery.

“For the last few months, we have all seen JAK’s make record profits during this pandemic while many of us are making close to minimum wage,” Kellough said.