Why is the County Still in the Liquor Business?
By Richard Fidler
Montgomery County is only one of the nation’s more than 3,000 counties which has complete control over the sale and distribution of alcohol. But in spite of increasing calls to privatize the whole operation and get the county out of the liquor business, virtually nothing has been done. Why?
Could it be because the county claims that its control reduces underage drinking? If so, why doesn’t the county control cigarettes the same way it controls liquor?
The real reason is the cozy relationship between our county council and the labor unions.
All employees of the Department of Liquor Control from the DLC warehouse through the delivery truck drivers down to the clerks in the county’s retail liquor stores are public employees and members of the union – specifically, local 1994 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union of the AFL-CIO. If the county privatizes, employees believe they will lose their jobs. No one wants people to lose their jobs, of course. But would that really be the case?
Logically, if a company buys the county operation, would they bring in a whole new workforce, completely unfamiliar with the operation? Or would they instead hire most of the current employees? Obviously, the new company wants experienced people working for them so they would likely hire the majority of the current DLC employees.
But even if the new employer guarantees the jobs of all of the current DLC employees, the UFCW would still oppose the move. Why? Because it is unlikely that the new employees would be represented by Local 1994. Notice I said Local 1994 – I did not say “a union.” So the employees would be allowed to make their choice, but the UFCW would still be opposed. Why? Because they would be losing about 350 members, either to a non-union entity or maybe even a different union. That would represent a major loss of income to the UFCW.
Suppose some council members were to vote for privatization. What would happen to them? For one thing, they would lose the support of the UFCW in the next election, and that support can be crucial. Plus, they don’t want to gamble that the employees of the new operation would contribute to their campaigns individually or as members of another union.
This is a perfect example of the nexus between unions and local government, working for their own interests to the detriment of the public good. The council keeps the status quo to appease UFCW. The UFCW rewards the council members with support at election time. The council continues to bow to pressure from the unions and ignores what is in the best interest of their constituents.
This isn’t a fight about what’s best for the county or for employees; it’s about what’s best for one particular union.