It was a rainy night in Guelph. Cold too. So getting some two dozen protestors out at dinner time to wave flags and hoist signs to support workers who earn minimum wage was going to be a challenge, but not a challenge that Guelphites weren't willing to overcome.
A small but enthusiastic crowd lined up outside the Tim Hortons at Yord Rd and Victoria St S Wednesday evening as part of a province wide demonstration against the coffee and donuts peddler. A number of Tim Hortons establishments, including one in Coburg co-owned by the daughter of the brand's namesake, have been charged with responding to the January 1 minimum wage increase in bad faith. Paid breaks have been cut, days off for personal reasons disallowed, and other punitive actions have been allegedly committed as response to the wage increase.
"We're not sure if this franchise is doing any of these tactics, or any of this bullying, but even if they aren't we need them to go one step further," Janice Fold-Dawson told the crowd. Folk-Dawson is a long-time Guelph labour activist and president of the Guelph and District Labour Council.
"We need them to write a letter to the Restaurant Brands Inc. and demand that they make all the franchisees follow the rules and restore all of the workers' wages, benefits and conditions," she added.
According to Folk-Dawson, this location was chosen for protest because it is one of the busier Tim Hortons outlets in Guelph, and because it's close to the university where a lot of students hold part-time, precarious jobs. Karma was not on this Tim Hortons' side though.
"I spoke to one of the women that serves us in the morning, and she said they lost their paid breaks back in October," said Frieda Smyth, a retired member of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation. The York/Victoria Tims is her spot, a hangout she visits frequently and where and socializes with friends.
Smyth also socializes with staff, which is how she learned about the cuts on breaks three months prior to the implementation of the wage increase. Also, no more free coffee for employees, who were allowed to grab a free cup at the end of their shift. "That's petty. For all the coffee they throw out all day because it's stale," Smyth lamented.
Neither store management nor the franchise owner spoke to the crowd, or to the media, even though they were on the premises. The only contact they had with the protestors was to ask them to stay out of the drive thru, and to put down salt on the icy concrete. Supposedly, repeated calls to the store for comment by other media outlets went unanswered.
No attempt was made to roust or clear the protestors though. Indeed, a few went into the store to hand out literature to patrons and staff. The flyer included contact information for the Workers' Action Centre hotline, as Folk-Dawson wanted to encourage workers to call if they feel like they're employer is taking punitive action in response to the minimum wage increase.
"We're putting this information out, making sure that the number for bullied employees is out there, give some facts out to people so that they understand how greedy that Tim Hortons is obviously being, or that some of the franchises are being, and how ridiculous it is for the parent corporation to say 'This is reckless behavour' and not take an action," she said.
Is this the end? Probably not. Folk-Dawson says boycotting is an option, but that would hurt the workers so it will be a reaction considered down the road if nothing changes. In the meantime, if you think something fishy is going on in your work place you can call the Workers' Action Centre hotline at 1-855-531-0778, or get then online at WorkersActionCentre.org. You can also consult the Ministry of Labour Ontario to learn about how you can file a complaint through official channels.