Anger toward corporate greed should be targeted at the individuals who perpetrate it

Re: “Protests hit local Tim Hortons as franchises cut workers’ benefits”

Anger toward corporate greed should be targeted at the individuals who perpetrate it

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. 

UTM food prices will rise due to minimum wage increase

All branded partners implementing five to 11 per cent price hike

UTM food prices will rise due to minimum wage increase

Branded food service outlets at UTM are raising prices in anticipation of the upcoming minimum wage increase. Costs are expected to increase by five to 11 per cent, as opposed to the previous average year-on-year increase of three per cent.

Prices for non-branded food are also set to increase, although it is unclear by how much. UTM is set to work with its catering partner Chartwells to keep its non-branded price increases “as low as possible given the increase in labour costs and expected increase in food costs,” according to the minutes of the Food Service Advisory Committee meeting on November 15.

The Food Service Advisory Committee evaluates and reviews various policy and operational aspects pertaining to food services at UTM and serves in a consultative capacity responsible to Vicky Jezierski, Director of Hospitality and Retail Services at UTM.

Jezierski explained, “University of Toronto Mississauga has no control over price changes in branded food service outlets… We do not set our branded prices at premium or non-traditional price levels that some other campuses do.”

The food price increases will also affect student meal plan rates, since these can be used at both branded and non-branded vendors on and off-campus. Jezierski noted that food prices are “the driving force” behind proposed meal plan rates.

“We are still in this part of the process, so the price increase for non-branded food service outlets has not been finalized,” said Jezierski. “Our focus is… also on sustainable food service hours of operation and service levels from year to year while still maintaining food prices at UTM that are well below the average of food prices at other Canadian college and universities.”

Jezierski said that Hospitality and Retail Services cannot subsidize increased costs because it “operates as an ancillary and is not in a position to get subsidies from the UTM’s operating budget.”

UTM Dining Services has put up printed notices of these increases at the various branded services’ kiosks, including at the Tim Hortons in the William G. Davis Building. The notices indicate that branded services “will be introducing price increases consistently for the remainder of the year.”

All branded services are implementing price increases, such as Bento Sushi, Subway, and all branded vendors in the Temporary Food Court, including Booster Juice, Elements, and Pizza Pizza.

As of the 2017 University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) AGM, the Blind Duck pub, a UTMSU division, had not indicated increases in price. The pub is currently running a deficit as UTMSU executives opted not to increase food costs last year despite increases in the cost of sales.

The UTMSU did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment in time for publication.

A $15 minimum wage has health benefits

Two U of T medical students reflect on the upcoming wage increase in Ontario

A $15 minimum wage has health benefits

On May 30, the Ontario Government introduced Bill 148, which includes an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 1, 2019. Economic research supports this increase: a higher minimum wage will increase household spending, which contributes to domestic consumption and economic growth.

Raising the minimum wage also addresses significant wealth inequities. The share of Ontarians earning low wages has grown, and it’s not just teenagers. A 2013 report found that 60 per cent of workers earning less than $15 are over 25, and these workers are much more likely to be women, racialized, and recent immigrants. The $15 an hour minimum wage will therefore help to close the wage gap for them.

Not only is this policy sound from both an economic and equity perspective, but it is also great for health. As medical students, we are learning about all the things that make us sick. A surprising amount of our health problems are affected by modifiable social factors: the Canadian Medical Association identifies 13 social determinants that contribute to 50 per cent of what makes Canadians sick, and poverty is one of them.

Research has demonstrated time and time again that living in poverty is bad for your health, and we can see why: income has an impact on the education people can receive, the food they can put on the table, and the housing they can afford.

Every day in the emergency department, health care providers and medical students meet patients who are affected by job insecurity, either due to precarious work or low wages. For example, we met Shirley*, a 42-year-old single mother who is living with diabetes and has two young kids. She came in with a complication from her chronic health condition that was clearly the result of her not taking her medications as prescribed. With further inquiry, it became clear that she wasn’t taking them because she could not afford them; Shirley works full-time, and at minimum wage, she is forced to prioritize food and rent over her health.

In medical school, we learn how to manage conditions like Shirley’s and about the array of drugs that help to curb associated complications. But for many patients, affording the medications they’re prescribed is very difficult, and this difficulty contributes to broader health care costs to both the individual and the province. In 2010, the estimated burden of diabetes in Ontario was $4.9 billion; this was projected to increase by 42 per cent by 2020. What we don’t always talk about, but that have very strong relevance, are the policies outside of the health system — such as Bill 148 — that will help patients afford necessary prescriptions to manage acute and chronic illnesses.

Currently in Ontario, someone who works full-time in a minimum wage job falls below the low-income threshold and has difficulty making ends meet. In fact, even a $15 minimum wage, while a major improvement, still falls below the calculated living wage in most parts of the province, including Toronto, where the living wage is $18.52. Poverty is linked to chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease, and workers in the lowest fifth of earners experience higher rates of poor mental health and multiple chronic conditions.

Not only does poverty affect families in the here and now, but in the future as well: studies have shown that poverty occurs in intergenerational cycles. Shirley’s kids, for example, are experiencing the stressors of living with insufficient income for adequate food and housing. Poverty is linked to delayed growth and cognitive development in children, and associated stressors can manifest in the form of mental illness later in life. A policy that adds more money to Shirley’s budget will have a positive impact on her children in the present and future.

Far too often, people are unable to prioritize their health because of low income. Increasing the minimum wage is one way of addressing this reality and has been shown to have a direct impact on health outcomes. Researchers at U of T have predicted that increasing the income of Canadians in the lowest income quintile by $1,000 would result in nearly 10,000 fewer chronic conditions overall, as well as 6,600 fewer disability days taken over a two-week period.

A 2008 report by the Ontario Association of Food Banks estimated that if the incomes of the lowest fifth of earners were raised to the level of the second-lowest fifth, this would result in $2.9 billion in health care savings. A reduction in illness and increased well-being due to increasing incomes for low-wage workers carries benefits for individuals, families, and the province as a whole.

A higher minimum wage is a great start to addressing health issues before they even develop — it is a preventative approach. We applaud the Government of Ontario for taking this step toward a healthier society.

Patricia Hoyeck and Mariam Naguib are students in the Faculty of Medicine. They are steering committee members of the Decent Work and Health Network.

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.

 

Fight for $15 and Fairness chapter launched at UofT

Movement calls for minimum wage increase, to combat increasing costs of living, precarious employment

Fight for $15 and Fairness chapter launched at UofT

Fight for $15 and Fairness, the Canadian affiliate of Fight for $15, has expanded its advocacy work for higher wages by bringing the campaign to U of T.

U of T’s chapter was founded by Souzan Mirza, a master’s student in biomedical engineering; Andre Fast, a fourth-year Innis College student and co-founder of U of T’s Free Tuition Coalition; and Jared Ong, an alumnus and organizer with Fight for $15 and Fairness.

The co-founders and other group members are appealing to students’ experiences of part-time, low-wage or unpaid employment and urging them to support a coordinated effort towards fair compensation in Ontario.

Fast told The Varsity that while their most pressing goal is to increase the minimum wage, in the future they hope to fight for “paid sick days, fair schedules, decent hours, and rules that protect all workers.”

Critics of movements that fight for higher wages often argue that wage increases would harm the economy, and result in job losses. U of T economics professor, Morley Gunderson, has opposed minimum wage increases in Ontario since 2010. He spoke to the Toronto Star who wrote, “10 per cent increase in minimum wage” will result in a “three to six per cent decrease in employment in young people.”

Fast disagrees with this conclusion, referring to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report from 2015 titled, “The Case for Increasing the Minimum Wage,” that refutes this point.

“A common misconception is that raising the minimum wage is bad for the economy… Rather, it would boost the economy as there would be increased demand since more people would have more money to spend,” Fast said.

Increasing the minimum wage to $15 has a precedent in Canada. In September 2016, the NDP government in Alberta announced that it would increase the minimum wage in increments, first bringing it to $12.20 in October 2016, then $13.60 in October 2017’ and finally to $15 in October 2018.

A wage increase to $15 an hour would constitute a significant raise for those making the current Ontario minimum wage of $11.40, but some reports suggest that a greater increase would be necessary for workers to provide for their families in expensive cities like Toronto. The 2015 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report “Making ends Meet” calculated Toronto’s living wage, defined as the amount needed to be made by two earners in a four-person household in order to provide basic necessities, at $18.52. 

Fast alluded to the group’s plan to gain enough traction in their campaign to bring attention to this issue in provincial politics.

“This semester, we are mobilizing at U of T for the final recommendations of the Changing Workplaces Review in the spring,” he said. “Together with Fight for $15 and fairness provincial campaign, we will push all political parties to craft legislation that would support decent working conditions. Looking further ahead, we plan to continue our advocacy and push to make the rise of precarious work a provincial election issue.”