A number of Tim Hortons locations across Ontario have cut their workers’ benefits in response to the provincial minimum wage increase. Though some might think such changes are necessary for the survival of these locations, the assumption that these decisions were just ‘good business’ may actually be misguided.
The events surrounding a franchise in Cobourg, Ontario in particular have brought to light the extent to which sheer greed can influence the decision to roll back worker benefits. In response to the minimum wage increase, the location‘s franchisees handed their employees a letter. Opening with a mawkish apology, the letter goes on to detail that the employees’ paid health benefits will be reduced and that breaks will no longer be paid. The location in question belongs to Ron Joyce Jr. and his wife, Jeri Horton-Joyce, the heirs to the Tim Hortons fortune. One would think that the inheritors of the coffee shop empire might possess some gratitude for their workers, who helped them amass a staggering personal net worth of $1.4 billion. Instead, the billionaire couple cut worker compensation in the face of the slightest potential loss of profits.
When news of this spread, protests began outside the Cobourg Tim Hortons, with outrage growing due to similar decisions being made in other parts of the province. These protests eventually made their way to Toronto, including at a location near campus, and so the #BoycottTimHortons movement began.
Although the cutthroat manner in which these corporations and franchises do business needs to be challenged, the anger people feel over the decision to minimize workers’ benefits needs to aimed in the right direction. It seems to be a lot easier for some to feel a general sense of distrust and antagonism towards corporations in general. However, it is inappropriate to shift blame away from individuals like the Joyces and franchise owners like them, and to attribute it to the entire corporation. This is in fact what the franchisees want: to lead the public to believe they had no hand in these decisions and that the constraints of doing business, all rooted in the structure of the corporation, forced their actions.
There are many Tim Hortons locations, like the ones on campus, that have not stripped workers of their benefits. And by acknowledging how many of these locations can continue to survive and succeed without making egregious cuts to employee benefits, it makes the situation in Cobourg seem that much more sickening, and the justification of these cuts as ‘good business’ that much more hollow.
Vidhant Pal is a graduate student at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering.