This year, minimum wage in Ontario was raised from $11.60 to $14 an hour, and as a result, all low-income workers everywhere are celebrating, and seeing a huge increase to their quality of living.
…I’m just kidding, of course a lot of them are still suffering just as much, if not even more so because of it.
You’ve probably already heard amidst the cacophony of internet outrage that Tim Hortons in particular has been mistreating employees as a result. At locations in Cobourg and Kingston, Ontario, employees were asked to sign documents outlining how they would no longer be receiving paid breaks, and also losing other incentives and bonuses while simultaneously seeing an increase in the cost of benefits, explaining that “These changes are due to the increase of wages to $14.00 minimum wage on January 1, 2018, then $15.00 per hour on January 1, 2019, as well as the lack of assistance and financial help from our head office and from the government.”
Similar accounts have followed from other locations around the province, including one in St. Thomas which has reportedly even started making employees pay for their own uniforms (at a cost of around $90-100) according to the CBC News, and another in Scarborough announced that employees would no longer be allowed to keep tips, but rather they must go into the till.
As all of this has been brought to light, people have become, to put it politely, pretty pissed off about it. And rightly so, as Tim Hortons has happily profited for years off of being branded as the quintessential, wholesome Canadian coffee/donut shop, so of course Canadians aren’t going to be all that impressed when the company starts to reek more and more noticeably of typical, capitalistic greed.
Not that this plummet in public image is anything new. Customers have become steadily more disillusioned with the franchise as its overall quality started to dip: freshly-made bakery items replaced with frozen, prices rose despite taste not improving, and employees nationwide are subjected to the same miserable, minimum wage conditions seen at many large fast food franchises.
Several years ago, I had the “pleasure” of experiencing what it was like to work the graveyard shift at two Chilliwack Timmies locations. We were given a coffee “break” where we were required to be on call, and on our unpaid lunch break we had to stay within sight of the till. After we’d clocked out, supervisors would often demand we stay and finish cleaning if the job was not yet done to their satisfaction — something I personally outright refused. Needless to say, I was happy to get out, as I’d felt mistreated and unappreciated for the entire duration of my time there despite working hard for very little pay, and I’ve heard several similar stories both from others I worked with, as well as those who have worked at other locations in the Fraser Valley.
While I’m not deaf to the consternation and frustrations of franchise owners, and the obstacles that a government-mandated wage increase entail, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a Tim Hortons owner who was exactly “suffering,” and the parent corporation certainly isn’t. The Toronto Star reported that the Great White North Franchisee Association had found the cost to each franchisee as a result of the wage increase would be approximately $6,968 per employee, totalling around $243,889 a year for stores with an average of 35 employees. They also found in Tim Hortons’ latest year-end report that franchises made $6.4 billion in total sales in 2016. It’s outrageous to suggest that minimum wage workers should need to be punished or penalized for the sake of the franchises they’re already expected to go the extra mile for, despite often still being treated like disposable garbage in return. These are human beings who deserve a living wage, not to have their benefits stripped away.
Tim Hortons seems to be doing very little to combat this PR nightmare, outside of their head office making a statement blaming these actions as being those of a “rogue group” of franchisees that don’t reflect their overall values. But in light of their current embarrassing fiasco, competitors are taking the opportunity to take a different, better approach to increasing wages.
Vancouver’s JJ Bean Coffee Roasters, who also have locations in the Toronto area, announced that they have raised B.C. workers’ wages to the same minimum now required in Ontario, as they feel it’s the “right thing to do.” While they plan to raise some prices to accommodate the change, it would seem likely that a good deal of people won’t mind paying an extra dime or two if it means helping those making the bare minimum.
Tim Hortons will apparently soon be raising prices on some breakfast items, though according to a spokesperson, these increases were part of “regular adjustments” unrelated to the wage increase.
Image: Jerry Huddleston/Flickr