Storm brewing

As of January 1, 2018, the minimum wage in the province of Ontario, Canada was raised from $11.60 per hour to $14.00, by the current provincial government. The labour reform bill which gives workers equal pay and paid vacation time, also stipulates a further increase to $15.00 per hour, as of January 1, 2019.

As one has come to expect with such legislation, businesses began to object immediately about their ability to afford such wages and its effect on their bottom line. Companies have predicted job losses and price increases, along with selling or relocating their businesses. The forecast storm has started to brew in the most unlikely of places, in the Tim Hortons’ coffee shops, a Canadian-based multinational chain of fast food restaurants, well known for its coffee and donuts.

Tim Horton was a professional hockey defence man who played for twenty-four seasons in the National Hockey League, before tragically losing his life at the age of 44 in a single car accident in 1974 whilst returning home to Buffalo, USA.  Arguably the strongest man in the league, he led the Toronto Maple Leafs to four Stanley Cup Championships.  During his last five seasons he played for New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres.

The iconic Horton opened his first coffee and donut shop in Hamilton, Ontario in May 1964, and by the time of his death, there were forty stores jointly owned with his business partner Ron Joyce. Joyce bought out Horton’s widow for one million dollars soon after Tim’s death, and later sold the franchise chain. Today, Joyce has an estimated net worth of $1.57 billion dollars, according to Canadian Business.

Initially concentrated in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, the chain has expanded into Western Canada and Quebec, the USA, the UK, Spain, Philippines and several Gulf states.  Today, with over 4,600 shops worldwide, popular for its annual “roll up the rim competitions,” there is at least one Tim’s or Timmie’s, as the Canadians refer to the coffee shops, on every urban main street and in almost every rural area in Canada. Non English speaking arrivals to Canada, often learn their first words of English in these stores, invariably it’s the term ‘double double’ (which appeared for the first time in the Canadian Oxford dictionary in 2004), a Canadian colloquialism for two creams, two sugars.

The brewing storm was made public via social media last month, when employees of two Cobourg, Ontario Tim Hortons cafes, posted online a letter from the franchise owners. The letter stated that due to the new minimum wage stipulations, employees would be asked to sign a document acknowledging the loss of certain benefits. Employees with more than five years service will now have to pay for half or more of their benefits, in some instances, which were previously paid for by the employer, and their 15 minute breaks will no longer be paid for. The franchise owners are a married couple, Ron Joyce Jr and Teri-Lynn Horton-Joyce, the son and one of the daughters, of the founders of the chain, respectively.

Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne and Labour Minister Kevin Flynn have responded by referring to the owners as bullies, with the latter announcing that his ministry will be investigating businesses for work place violations, including one Tim Hortons location in Scarborough where the employees were instructed to hand over the tips they received from customers.

Business owners’ predictions of anticipated problems with the minimum wage are right on the money. Economists, both sides of the divide, had earlier expressed concern about the almost 21 per cent increase in the minimum cost of labour, and the potential loss of jobs. Is the situation brewing at the Tim Hortons cafes a sign of things to come?

Restaurant Brands International, the third largest restaurant brand in the world, owned by Burger King and 3G Capital have chosen to distance themselves from the potential storm stating “The actions of a few restaurant owners …  does not reflect the value of our brand.” The Tim Horton brand is managed in a top down manner, and although the cafes are independently owned and managed, the franchisees have very little input and control over costs, other than in the area of labour.

Why are the workers on the front line, always the ones to be picked on first? Regardless of place, regardless of industry, why are they always the ones to feel the effects of any economic shifts?

As the calls on social media increase for the boycott of Tim Hortons’ cafes in Ontario, the brand which sells itself as committed to middle and lower economic communities by sponsoring youth camps and Timbit hockey leagues, continues to “roll up the rim” and finds itself a winner, as the employees and the franchise owners begin to battle over wages and benefits.

At the coffee shop where everyone seems to go during their breaks, the employees there might not be allowed to enjoy the same privilege.



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