Protesters held rallies at Tim Hortons stores across Ontario Wednesday in response to the decisions by some store franchises to make cuts to employees’ benefits to compensate for the implementation of a $14 minimum hourly wage.
A protest at the Division Street location in Cobourg drew hundreds, many carrying placards and flags. The controversy started at that and one other Cobourg location after an internal note to workers from owners Jeri-Lynn Horton Joyce and Ron Joyce Jr. went viral on social media shortly before the new year.
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath joined the crowd amassed in the store’s parking lot Wednesday evening.
WATCH: How Tim Hortons became the flashpoint in fight over higher minimum wage
“No single mom or single dad for that matter should have to work two or three jobs just to put food on the table,” she told reporters.
Horwath is pleased to see a higher minimum wage but accuses the government of waiting till the eve of an election to do it, leading to a quick spike and great difficulty for workers and their bosses.
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“What’s frustrating, I think, for a lot of folks is that it leaves workers still having to try to fight for something that they should’ve been getting a long time ago,” she said.
Restaurant Brands International (RBI), Tim Hortons’ parent company, recently issued a statement on their website blaming the changes on “a few restaurant owners,” insisting their actions “do not reflect the values of our brand.”
WATCH: Protests hit Tim Hortons locations across Toronto
Regardless of how the company feels, the actions of some store owners are not illegal.
“Franchisees, like any employer, have the ability to make amendments to the workplace,” Toronto-based labour lawyer Soma Ray-Ellis said. “If they’re not required by the Employment Standards Act to provide, for example, benefits…or paid breaks, then (franchisees) can take those away as long as they’ve provided notice to the employees of those changes.”
Protesters say the fact that it’s not illegal doesn’t make it right. They’re calling on RBI to step in and force franchisees to reverse their decision.
At another protest in Toronto, Ontario Federation of Labour President Chris Buckley vowed an escalation of action if the claw-backs aren’t undone.
“The Ontario labour movement will mobilize like this province hasn’t seen in a very long time,” Buckley said. “We’re going to fight like hell to make his the Ontario we want for every worker right across the province.”
Global News reached out to Horton Joyce and Joyce Jr. but they declined to respond.