Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What's Going On

As you know, the House passed HB790. It was clearly an historic day, the first time a liquor store privatization bill has ever passed out of a chamber of the Legislature. Let me say that again. This is the first time a liquor privatization bill has ever been passed in the Pennsylvania Legislature.

And that's great, but now it has to pass in the Senate, and the Republicans there are even more resistant to voting with their party, with their party's governor, and with their party's age-old direction on government functions. Why? Lots of reasons, but it's going to take time, it's going to take work, it's going to take YOU talking to your senator (and other Republican senators), because to pass, a privatization bill that's not watered down to a "modernization" bill will need all but one Republican senator.

Public opinion is energized, newspaper editorials are falling in favor of chopping the system apart, and even the New Jersey papers are getting into the act: they know damned well that privatization in Pennsylvania will mean a loss of business for NJ liquor stores. We need to keep the pressure on, we need to keep talking about this, and we need to be in the senator's mailboxes...and maybe in their offices.

I'm going to be gone for a bit, and the blog will be silent again. I've got another blog going for a project this Sunday -- Session Beer Day, a nationwide, low-key celebration of tasty, low-alcohol craft beers, more about it here -- and then I'm going to Scotland to tour distilleries for a book I'm writing. When I get back, we really need to talk about getting a visit to Harrisburg organized, to show the senators that while we don't have yellow t-shirts like the union, we're still serious about privatization of this fossilized relic of a "system" that should never have existed. And maybe we need to revisit the idea of a large group of people publicly, simultaneously, going over to NJ or Delaware, buying a bottle of booze, and openly bringing it back to PA: if the Senate won't give us privatization, we'll have to go and take it.

Get busy. Stay pumped. And talk to your Senators!


Anonymous said...

You must be on the same schedule as your butt buddies in Harrisburg

Lew Bryson said...

Very classy! And so brave to post Anonymously! Wendell must be proud of you.

Lew Bryson said...

Sorry: I have a limit of one comment per Anonymous nitwit.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't you feel bad for the wine and spirits workers and their families?

Lew Bryson said...

Well, yes. I've said that from the beginning. But the state should not be supporting what is essentially a jobs program. Shutting down the system can be done in a fair way; and regardless of what Witch Doctor Wendell says, there will be jobs in a privatized system, and the clerks are the only people in the state with retail wine and spirits experience. If they're good, they'll get jobs. They can even organize: the UFCW has thousands of members in private business.

Anonymous said...

Another word to my fellow LCB employees:
You cannot, and should not, expect anyone to choose sides on the privatization debate based on our losing our jobs. On the positive side, the thing we CAN do is educate ourselves about the products we sell. Product knowledge is a skill that will serve both to break the stereotype of the potable-ignorant LCB clerk AND also to give us a strong leg-up if we end up having to apply for jobs in the private sector.

Lew Bryson said...

Bullseye. The service at the State Stores isn't being talked about in the high-level debate in Harrisburg, for the human and political reason that no legislator wants to be quoted criticizing people's performance, but it is definitely discussed among the people who actually have to use the system.

I've said all along that the service I've received at the register has almost always been satisfactory, and often quite friendly. But the service out on the floor is distinctly sub-par, with a very few notable exceptions. I've been given to understand that there's no real program in place to increase product knowledge, and it shows.

Your union reps tell you what a horrible work environment Total Wine is, but fail to point out that while their employees complain about their treatment by management, they almost never fail to admit that the training they receive in wine and spirits is exemplary...and they often use it to go elsewhere.

If you get motivated about what you're selling, and get excited about helping the people who need help...that's the very best thing you can do to stop privatization. Much better than the chanting and shouting that the UFCW encourages, much better than the flimsy statistics, much better than allying yourself with anti-alcohol groups.

If you want a "modernization" program that would actually save your jobs, look to Sweden's Systembolaget (, their state monopoly wine and spirits retailer. I've heard nothing but praise for it from producers (I was on a press trip with the Swedish brand manager for Pernod Ricard, and she never stopped praising it) and from consumers; a fraternity brother of mine now lives in Stockholm -- he's very picky about wine -- and he raves about the service and selection at Systembolaget...and as a former Pennsylvanian pities me for the State Stores.

Real modernization would include linking product knowledge and sales performance to advancement, would include a wine specialist and a spirits specialist at each premium store. It would give the local store managers much more training, and much more control over what's sold at their stores. It would take the control of shelf facings away from the people in Harrisburg and give it to you, the people who are actually selling.

I don't think that's likely to happen, but if it did? It would go a long way to shutting me up on this issue. It would also help if some of your co-workers would stop trying to tell me that private stores in other states aren't as good as the State Stores, because I go there, and that's simply not true. Doesn't help your case. Instead, do what you can to make your store better. Just do what you can, where you are.

I don't go to New Jersey for the prices. I go for the selection, somewhat, especially on spirits, because the State Store is, for whatever reason, scared of whisky. But the main reason I avoid the State Stores is the service. I get much better, much more helpful service at the private stores in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Delaware. Fact.

Anonymous said...

The bill is not doing do hot in the Senate!!!

Lew Bryson said...

It wasn't expected to!

Really, I said that up above. Meanwhile, this was the FIRST hearing. It was stacked with those who would be against it. McIlhinney doesn't want to pass HB790, he wants to pass his own version of privatization: allowing taverns to sell bottles of wine, maybe spirits too. No one wants this but him, but that's what's going to pass out of his committee. There are no surprises here.

Meanwhile, I don't hear anyone talking about the union contract that Wendell W. "President for Life" Young IV was crowing about last year, that would end all talk of privatization. Seems like it didn't. Seems like he was full of crap...yet again. Don't you ever get tired of his lies?

Anonymous said...

Sorry I can't be bothered with your soapbox rantings to single out what the bill might do in the Senate, but hey good luck to you.

Lew Bryson said...

Thanks, ya cowardly anonymous mule! Bad luck with continuing to block the wishes of 60+% of Pennsylvanians!

Anonymous said...

If it wasn't for me you wouldn't have a blog, looks like the only other person on this blog is you!

Lew Bryson said...

As far as you know, sure. What I know is that ideas and critiques that get posted here often show up in news stories within a month; the question of whether the BLCE does sting operations in the State Store was a big one, which actually came up in Tuesday's hearings. Before I brought that up here, no one talked about it. Now it properly brings into question just how good a job the State Stores are actually doing on preventing underage purchasing. I get called for interviews on the subject and I'm able to get a little bit of the consumers' viewpoint out there; "the voice of the 60%," if you will.

Which is all I want; the right people are reading the blog, and following my Tweets about the PLCB. My daily views are fine by me. It's not really about the comments so much.