SALT LAKE CITY -- Employee morale issues at Utah's state-run liquor stores spilled out into a public meeting, with current and former workers leveling criticism at management.
At Tuesday's monthly meeting of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, a security guard at a Sandy liquor store vented at having her contract cut and then re-offered her job at a lesser wage. Tracey Creno accused DABC management of mistreating workers.
"DABC administration manages people like they manage the booze on the wall," she said. "Those employees are being mistreated. They're being told they're dirtbags, they're being told they're cancer. We have spies showing up at stores and spying on employees to feed back information -- and you wonder why these people are walking out on you?"
Former DABC Human Resources Director Kerri Adams said she had been hearing from numerous employees about morale issues within the department. She pointed to a series of policies that already low-paid workers are being bombarded with.
Adams said the biggest problem has been a decision by DABC administration to spread managers across multiple stores "which is causing systematic failures." Assistant managers who make between $9 and $13 an hour are picking up the slack.
"When you hear the demoralized comments people make to you, they have no hope right now," Adams told DABC commissioners. "I just hope we could help them out. If you want to see constant turnover in your stores, continue down the course you're going."
DABC Commissioner Jeff Wright asked what she would recommend. Adams said go back to one manager per store.
Adams leveled some of her criticism at the governor's office, which she said may be pushing some of the hardships on DABC employees.
"Your store employees are the ones who stock your shelves and quite frankly, you're wearing them out," she said.
She got support from DABC Commissioner Olivia Vela Agraz, who acknowledged employees are underpaid and overworked.
"I think the key issue is for all employees to take ownership and pride in what they do," Agraz said. "You can't when you're underpaid. You can't when you have to manage two or three stores."
Outgoing DABC Commission Chairman David Gladwell defended some of the decisions management has made, enacting new policies in the aftermath of corruption allegations that led to an overhaul within the liquor control agency several years ago. But he suggested the Utah State Legislature should give the agency more money.
"We need some additional funding to manage the affairs of the department properly," Gladwell said.
Being a liquor control state, the DABC generates hundreds of millions of dollars in liquor sales. However, the agency has no control over its budget. Instead, the money largely goes to the state's general fund. The agency was handed a $500,000 budget cut from state lawmakers last year and it has slashed security contracts, stretched managers across multiple stores and offered employee buyouts.
In an interview with FOX 13, Gladwell said some lawmakers were beginning to look at the idea of giving the DABC a share of its own proceeds (he said the concept of liquor privatization would not likely sell in Utah).
"We bring in a large amount of money. Millions of dollars," he said. "This product that is heavily regulated is entrusted to this department and they really do not have the operating dollars they need to keep the stores fully staffed."
At Tuesday's meeting, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, who has been tasked with handling liquor legislation in Utah. He told FOX 13 he wasn't supportive of the DABC getting a share of its proceeds.
"They should conform to the way we run the state of Utah -- and they will -- but we probably need to look and make sure they have more money to take care of some of these things," he said.
In a statement to FOX 13, Governor Herbert's spokesman Marty Carpenter said it is addressing concerns about the DABC. He wrote:
"Over the past several months, we have listened–and continue to listen–to the concerns raised about the DABC and we are currently in the process of implementing a number of changes.
We have outlined specific strategies that will:
- Increase inventory including wine selection in six stores (located in Ogden, Park City and Salt Lake)
- Reduce paperwork and processes, so managers have more time to focus on their work
- Improve the vendor supply chain to improve how stores receive shipments
- We have assigned a specialist from the Department of Human Resource Management to work with individual employees who have concerns
Representatives from GOMB are also in the process of reaching out to employees directly to get their unfiltered feedback.
It is also worth pointing out one of the two new board appointees, Neil Berube, is the president and CEO of Associated Foods and we look forward to his expertise in making certain our retail operations are running smoothly."