When Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberals announced earlier this year that they would be raising minimum wage in the province from $11.60 to $14 on January 1, 2017 and to $15 in 2019, reactions were mixed. There were certainly underpaid and overworked minimum wage workers who were eager for the wage hike to make living in Canada just a little easier. There were also small business owners (and even corporations) who warned the government that it would mean prices would rise, workers would need to be laid off and any number of new policies would need to be put in place to compensate for paying employees more. The first company to come under fire for exactly that is Tim Hortons.
Last week, employee reports surfaced that certain franchises were pulling some ethically-questionable moves to compensate their new wage expenses. One Tims — a franchise owned by heirs of the original owners — told employees they were eliminating paid breaks and cutting back health benefits and dental coverage. Another store said that employees were no longer entitled to any tips. One is now requiring employees to pay for their own uniforms, which can cost between $90 and $100 according to CBC.
In response to backlash over the franchise cutbacks, Tim Hortons corporate — which you’ll recall is now American-owned — replied that those decisions are made by the individual store owners, not the company itself. They said in a statement:
“Almost all of our restaurants in Canada are independently owned and operated by small business Owners who are responsible for handling all employment matters, including all policies for benefits and wages, for their restaurants. Restaurant Owners are expected to comply with all applicable laws and regulations within their jurisdiction.”
While none of the known changes violate Ontario law, they take away key benefits that were helpful to employees. Some even told CBC that with the removal of paid breaks, their paychecks will be less even with the hourly raise. Local labour activists in some Ontario cities like Ottawa and Hamilton have set up anonymous hotlines for minimum wage employees to report mistreatment by their employers. For now, employees and supportive community members are protesting at some stores and encouraging a boycott of the coffee chain.
Yesterday, some Ontarians participated in #NoTimmiesTuesday in solidarity with employees and as a show of support for local coffee shops and cafes that are likely feeling more intense financial pressure than the food giant. People were encouraged to trade their morning Timmies for a local brew.
#notimmiestuesday #boycottTimHortons this Tuesday January 9th, 2017 #grabthembythewallet #GrabYourWallet and show these corporate greedy morally bankrupt owners you’re not okay with them treating their employees so poorly pic.twitter.com/BkZHnG49sX
— Octavia Daenerys (@OctaviaDaenerys) January 7, 2018
On the CBC last week, I noted that if Tim Hortons wants to exploit Canadian identity, imagery, and nostalgia for profit, they should be held to a higher standard in how they treat their Canadian workers. #TimHortons #cdnpoli #canlab #notimmiestuesday
— Christo Aivalis (@christoaivalis) January 9, 2018
While the protests and the boycott have gained significant support, some argue on social media that it is an overreaction to business decisions that were required to keep the franchises profitable. No one makes money if the store closes down because they can’t afford to pay employees the new inflated wage. That takes us back to Kathleen Wynne.
When the initial reports about the cutbacks at the heir-owned franchise first gained media traction, the premier was quick to call out the corporation for going after the little guy instead of the government. She said that if Ron Joyce Jr. (the owner of the store and son of Tims co-founder Ron Joyce) had concerns about the new minimum wage, he should have brought them to her directly.
“I’d be happy if this man were making a statement about the government or about the policy,” Wynne said, “What I think is really unfair, and where I think the bullying comes in, is that he’s taking this out on his employees. He’s behaving in a way that I think is so unfair to his employees, people who are trying to make ends meet.”
While Wynne comes across as sympathetic — defending minimum wage employees to the mean employer who is taking their benefits — the international corporation is an easy target. Many small business owners and even some wage workers voiced concerns about the wage hike before it happened but there was little done by the government with the citizen feedback.
Protesters have vowed to continue until Tim Hortons promises to leave employee benefit policies intact. The company’s brand of being Canada’s favourite and most wholesome franchise is at stake but it’s unclear right now if the corporate Tims will bite. The money has to come from somewhere to pay employees $2.40 more an hour.