LCBO workers sent a strong message to the province on Tuesday night, voting 95 per cent in favour of a strike mandate as contract talks continue.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) represents some 7,000 liquor store workers in retail, head office and warehouses. Their contract expired March 31.

“Let’s be clear: we have no plans to take job action,” OPSEU president Warren “Smokey” Thomas said in a statement on Wednesday. “But let’s be clear about something else: we expect the LCBO to return to the bargaining table with a determination to negotiate those issues that our members have identified as most important to them but for which management refuses to discuss.”

Key sticking points in bargaining include a proposed four-year wage freeze, a revised pay grid for new workers, the elimination of 270 assistant manager positions and possible changes to benefits packages.

The reliance on part-time workers is also a key issue for the union, which says there’s been an increase of 981 part-time positions between April 2008 and September 2012, but only 156 new permanent full-time jobs added in the same time frame.

“It’s not uncommon for an employee to wait 10, 15 or more years before they’re able land a permanent, full-time job,” Thomas said in a release last month. “The average part-timer at the LCBO earns about $26,000 a year. Is that a sufficient amount to improve your quality of life, give your kids opportunities and to retire with dignity? I think not.”

LCBO president and CEO Bob Peter said the strike mandate doesn’t mean negotiations won’t end well.

“It is not unusual for a union to have a strike vote during the  collective bargaining process,” Peter said in a statement on Wednesday.  “Collective bargaining is scheduled to continue until mid-May. We’re  looking forward to getting back to the bargaining table and working  toward an agreement that is fair and in keeping with the economic  realities and recent public sector agreements.”