A recent decision by some Tim Hortons locations to cut employee benefits in response to the rise in minimum wage has elicited strong responses from members of the U of T community and the general public.
The news first broke on January 3 that a Tim Hortons in Cobourg, Ontario would be ending paid breaks and some benefits, such as full dental and health coverage. The branch, which is owned by the children of Tim Hortons’ co-founders, said that the cuts were due to the provincial government’s decision to raise the minimum wage from $11.60 per hour to $14 per hour, effective January 1, 2018.
The changes were also blamed on “the lack of assistance and financial help from Head Office and from the Government.”
While Tim Hortons has called these cuts the actions of a “rogue group” of franchisers, the news prompted backlash from members of the U of T community, including employees at the university’s own Tim Hortons.
An employee at the Tim Hortons located in the Medical Sciences building, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Varsity that though her location wasn’t being affected by the cuts, she could not be sure that it would remain that way.
“We’re happy with everything here… but I’m very unhappy about the other ones… [the labour board] should step in and so should the government,” said the employee.
According to U of T Director of Media Relations Althea Blackburn-Evans, “The Tim Hortons locations at Sidney Smith, Medical Sciences, UTM and UTSC employ unionized workers, so they would not be exposed to the kind of cost-cutting measures that may be taken by other franchises.”
At the Tim Hortons location in Sidney Smith, an employee said that they were not allowed to comment on the issue.
In response to the cuts being made by some locations, labour groups in Ontario held demonstrations at over a dozen Tim Hortons locations across the province on January 10. The events were planned by the Ontario Federation of Labour, which represents 54 Ontario unions, and Fight for $15 and Fairness, a group that focuses on protecting workers’ rights and defending labourers from the “attacks by the corporate lobby and right-wing politicians.”
One of the protests was held at the Tim Hortons at Bedford Road and Bloor Street, just off of the UTSG campus, and was well attended by students and labour groups. Demonstrators could be seen carrying picket signs that read, “I love donuts but not pay cuts” and chanting “Hold our sugar, hold our cream, Tim Hortons don’t be mean.”
Julia DaSilva, a student representing the U of T chapter of Fight for $15 and Fairness, said that it was important to stand up to the “scare tactics” being used by some franchisers.
“Companies like Tim Hortons rake in massive amounts of revenue and are using tactics like these… in order to create fear around this rise in minimum wage that should be benefiting workers and easily could be,” said DaSilva.
Enver Harbans of the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union said that he was there to oppose the “draconian measures” being taken by the company.
“We’re here to let Tim Hortons know and corporations know that as a movement, we’re always going to be in support of workers, and we’re always going to be struggling for workers.”