TORONTO – Protesters who rallied outside Tim Hortons locations across Ontario on Wednesday roasted some franchisees for slashing workers’ benefits and breaks in an effort to compensate for the province’s minimum wage hike, but many said their gripes would not derail their daily coffee runs.
Those who gathered said they were worried staff would be negatively impacted if they boycotted to spite the small handful of franchisees — not necessarily the 16 locations that were targeted — who demanded workers cover a larger share of their dental and health-care benefits and take unpaid breaks to offset the 20 per cent raise to $14 an hour.
“I haven’t decided to boycott because these wages go to the workers and to putting people like me through university because minimum-wage jobs are the ones largely available to students,” said Joshua Bowman, a University of Toronto student who protested at the Tim Hortons location down the street from his university.
Bowman gripped a sign reading “Shame on Timmies for not sharing” and chanted “Hold the sugar, hold the cream, Tim Hortons don’t be mean” with at least three dozen other activists as a steady stream of customers filtered inside. Similar scenes played out in other Ontario cities including Ottawa, London, Guelph and Peterborough.
Tim Hortons and its parent company Restaurant Brands International Inc. wouldn’t comment on the protests.
The rallies that ensnared its restaurants came a day after a social media campaign urged patrons to take part in “No Timmies Tuesday” on Jan. 9 and instead visit independent coffee shops.
Social media has since been rife with people declaring they’d head to mom-and-pop stores selling coffee, but it’s unclear how many are acting on their posted promise.
The Fight for $15 and Fairness organization and the Ontario Federation of Labour, who organized Wednesday’s protests said they were hoping their efforts would be enough to return benefits to workers, given that the company is “wildly profitable” and that CEO Daniel Schwartz earned $6.1 million in salary and other perks in 2016.
“Head office has the means to ensure that these reprisals against workers are reversed, and we are calling on them to do so immediately,” said Pam Frache, Ontario co-ordinator for the Fight for $15 and Fairness. “And we are not going to stop, actually, until they make this happen. We need to make it right for these employees.”
Among the cities where protesters were deployed was Cobourg, Ont., where much of the recent outrage has been centred after Jeri Horton-Joyce and Ron Joyce Jr., the children of the brand’s billionaire co-founders, rolled out the controversial measures at two locations they own.
Tiffany Balducci, a vice-president at CUPE Ontario, who rallied at the same location as Bowman and is also refusing to boycott Tim Hortons, said she was disappointed that they targeted workers because they have many other options that don’t involve staff.
“They can definitely talk to their parent group about possibly having to raise a few prices of things,” Balducci said. “If that is not going to work, the profit margins are huge, they can find the money to support the workers through their parent company and their parent company can hold these franchisees accountable.”
The parent company has denounced the actions of some franchisees, who have said they have been left with no choice because RBI, which controls product pricing, has not committed to a price hike.
But according to one long-time Tim Hortons employee in London, Ont., who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, cutting paid breaks and benefits are not new tactics either.
“Other stores have done it for quite a while now,” said the worker.
The owners of the restaurant where the employee works stopped paying for breaks around the time Ontario raised its minimum wage to $11.25 an hour on Oct. 1, 2015, the employee said. They recalled being brought in for a performance review, informed of the decision and asked to sign a document stating they agreed to the changes.
Several years ago, the owners also stopped covering benefits packages for employees who had worked at the company for more than a decade, they said. Now, no matter how many years an employee’s remained with the company, they now have to pay for half their benefits if they sign up for coverage, they said.
However, the worker said no changes have happened at that location as a result of the recent hike.
“I don’t think there’s anything else they can take away.”
— With files from Aleksandra Sagan and Michelle McQuigge