The second week of Ontario’s minimum wage hike brought with it large pickets against Tim Hortons bosses and owners across the province. Coordinated actions were held province-wide in Cobourg, Dundas, Guelph, London, Peterborough, Ottawa, Windsor, and nine locations in Toronto. The actions were held in response to widespread reports of benefit clawbacks at Tim Hortons locations across Ontario. Durham Region Labour Council and the Fight for $15 and Fairness organized the action in Cobourg, bolstered by large contingents from various unions. Among those in attendance were former Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan, NDP MPP for Oshawa Jennifer French, and Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath.
Employers abusing loyal workers
One attendee, Bernice Sanpedro, said she braved the rain and cold to attend the action. “I’ve got a friend who’s been working here for 17 years. As of today, she’s looking for a new job.” The theft of “all of her breaks” pushed her to seek another workplace. After returning from time off for health reasons, Sanpedro’s friend brought a doctor’s letter explaining that she couldn’t be put to work on the window for more than an hour at a time. “They stick her on the window for five or six hours. 17 years – come on!” Sanpedro stressed that Tim Hortons employees need union representation.
The oft-peddled notion that keeping wages low encourages people to get educated was rebuffed by Anne Watson, another attendee and mother to three well educated adults. “My daughter just got her master’s [degree]. She’s got three degrees. She’s working really hard to get a job. It’s sparse out there.” When asked if it was true that a cushy, well-paid job is awaiting every graduate, Anne’s husband John said, “it’s a myth, you’re right.” “It’s a grim story, right there,” agreed Anne. Anne also said paying off student loans on even $15 an hour is, “not a reality. They can’t even start paying off [loans] at a job like this.”
Sid Ryan said he came to Cobourg, “to support the workers…Minimum wage was frozen for at least eight years under the Tory government. Not much happened for the next number of years underneath the Liberals.” Ryan described Tim Hortons’ reaction to the wage hike as, “a multinational corporation coming out and basically punishing the workers for a democratic decision that was made in our legislature – to raise the minimum wage to catch up after being screwed for so many years.”
On why the Liberals introduced Bill 148 (the $15/hour and labour reform law) in 2017, Ryan said the electorally weak Liberals, “found religion on the road to Damascus,” recognizing the party needed to move left to bolster their low popularity. “Bill 148 would not have existed without push from labour and the push from the Worker’s Action Centre [headquarters of Ontario’s Fight for $15 and Fairness]. [They] ran a brilliant campaign that was grassroots oriented. They refused to listen to the mainstream political parties that told them ‘this is too much, you shouldn’t be asking for this,’ and they plowed ahead and mobilized…it wasn’t any political party.” Ryan attributed a lot of the support for raising wages to indebted, precariously employed college graduates and their families, reflecting the Watsons’ story.
Wealthy owners whine
The actions of Tim Hortons must be contextualized accurately. This is not the calculated lowering of benefits in response to a wage increase. These businesses are not hurting: the average yearly earning of a Tim Hortons location is $265,000 after labour and operation costs are paid (2011, most recent numbers available). The Cobourg location is owned by none other than Tim Hortons heirs Jeri-Lynn Horton-Joyce and Ron Joyce Jr. In 2013, the Joyce’s family yacht was sold for $19.9 million. The yacht was used by Ron Joyce to host parties with supermodels and celebrities like Selma Hayek.
Tim Hortons is also not one of the small businesses regularly trotted out as a rhetorical shield for big franchises. Tim Hortons’ attack on their own employees is retaliation by a large corporation unwilling to give people a living wage in exchange for labour and loyalty. This is not about economics, as economist Michal Rozworski has clearly outlined. This is a public temper tantrum by wealthy owners accustomed to unquestioned power.
The frustration and energy being funnelled into positive action – on only the second week of the $2.60 wage increase – is inspiring. Tim Hortons franchisees miscalculated their position and put their neck out in attacking worker benefits right out of the gate. Large pickets across the province provide an opportunity to continue to build power and support working people.
Crucially, these actions are also a serious warning to all employers. Labour, the Fight for $15, and working people in Ontario have proven they will stand up for the rights of other workers, regardless of the city or town. The energy captured after Tim Hortons’ hamfisted attack on workers must continue if we are to defend our current gains, and organize towards more. Further actions are planned for the upcoming week, with a national day of action on January 19.
This piece was first published by socialist.ca