By Dean Dettloff
On Jan. 1, 1.1 million low-wage workers in Ontario greeted 2018 with the promise of a better paycheck. As part of Bill 168, passed by Ontario’s governing Liberal Party, the province’s minimum wage jumped from $11.60 (CAD) to $14 per hour, and it will rise again to $15 in 2019. The increase comes after a significant push by workers and activists, especially those in the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign, a diverse coalition including labor advocates, unionized and non-unionized workers, and faith communities.
It will come as no surprise that Canadian economists are divided on the benefits of raising the minimum wage, but proponents say the hike is desperately needed following decades of wage stagnation that has led many Canadians to take on significant debt.
The success of the minimum-wage campaign came largely from grassroots organizing, says Deena Ladd, coordinator of the Workers’ Action Centre, which functions as an organizing hub. “The highlight has been supporting different groups to come forward and find their place in the movement,” says Ms. Ladd. “It was really interesting to see how the campaign was able to, instead of being restrictive, facilitate people’s ability to organize around what they felt comfortable doing.”
Among those different groups was a coalition of faith leaders who signed a statement supporting the wage increase and a number of other labor reforms, some of which also made it into Bill 168. Ms. Ladd says the faith community was mobilized when organizers in training with the Workers’ Action Centre began to think about how to expand the fight to their own personal networks.
“I would say probably 60 percent of [trainees] were part of faith communities,” says Ms. Ladd. “They went to their local mosques or churches or otherwise, and more than just listening and telling people about the campaign, they asked their faith leaders if they would support it and put on workshops.” To see a multifaith community come together with workers in health care, transportation, food service and other industries was unique and exciting, Ms. Ladd says, and helped galvanize the movement.
A report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a research group that has been studying income inequality, says if the minimum wage had been $15 at the beginning of 2017, it would have meant a raise for 23 percent of Ontario’s population, including 27 percent of women and 19 percent of men in Ontario. The report says an increased minimum wage in the province will especially benefit immigrants, indigenous and other low-income workers.
Of course, the wage hike has not been welcomed by everyone. A number of businesses have started to eliminate benefits previously granted to low-wage workers, most notably the popular fast food chain Tim Hortons in response. Reports of Tim Hortons franchisees rolling back paid breaks and prohibiting employees from accepting tips led to protests in Ontario and across Canada throughout January.
Despite the province providing a tax cut to small businesses to offset the effects of the wage, some have described the increase as a “small-business killer,” as well as the cause of price increases at some businesses.
Not all small-business owners feel the same way about the minimum wage increase, however. “I think it’s awesome. Every employee deserves to make an amount that is livable, and $11.60 just isn’t, especially in Toronto,” says Chris Watton, who opened The Sidekick, an independent comic book store and cafe in East Toronto, almost three years ago. “I’m happy that more people will make an amount that helps them pay their rent. I was also working for minimum wage not so long ago, and I remember what it’s like.”
Starting a niche business in a city increasingly known for high rent and a high cost of living is daunting, but The Sidekick has become a neighborhood staple, and though it means payroll expenses will go up, Ms. Watton is unfazed by the change.
“It looks really bad if you’re a small-business owner and you’re telling your employees they’re not worth $15 an hour,” says Ms. Watton. “I think big businesses don’t really have an excuse. To say the person who makes it possible for that business to be open by working there every day is not worth a living wage should be an embarrassment.”
Ms. Ladd agrees, adding that the backlash has exposed the greed of major corporations and what she calls a double standard regarding income inequality. Though public conversations about raising the minimum wage stir up fears of price increases and closures, Ms. Ladd says, “people don’t ask the same questions when they hear a C.E.O. is making $8 million. ‘They must deserve that.’ But a poor person making $14 an hour, God forbid, they should have a paid meal break, 15 minutes where they’re paid $6.”
While some businesses have aggressively opposed the change, a Forum Research poll said two-thirds of Ontarians support the wage increase. With the eventual goal of $15 per hour, Ontario joins Alberta, which passed legislation to raise its minimum wage to the same level, effective in October of this year. The two provinces will have the highest minimum wage in Canada.
Bill 168 is a major victory for workers and the Fight for $15 and Fairness, but Ms. Ladd says the fight is far from over. Now, she says, organizers are focusing on informing workers about their new rights they have and about how to protect them moving forward.
On June 7, Ontario will hold provincial elections, and the Canada’s major parties are already weaving Bill 168 into their campaign narratives. The Progressive Conservative Party says it would delay the wage increase until 2022, while the New Democratic Party is critical of what it suggests is opportunism behind the Liberal Party’s support for the raise. The incumbent Liberal Party is touting Bill 168 as a matter of moral responsibility, and the policy is popular with voters who only last year gave Kathleen Wynne, the Liberal Ontario Premier, a mere 12 percent approval rating.
Referring to political opponents, Ms. Ladd says, “We want their hands off the gains people have made. We have to effectively take the backlash [from the business community] on and build people’s confidence that this is the way to go, that the low-wage alternative is not good for us.”
While the Fight for $15 and Fairness turns to defending its wins, Ms. Watton looks forward to growing her small business to provide better wages for her employees. “I’m very lucky that good people apply and don’t leave. I’m pretty stoked about my staff. If I could afford to pay them what they’re really worth I would, and that’s the goal.”
By Jenny Cowley and Nelisha Vellani
Higher percentage of servers' tips being shared amongst other staff
A number of popular Canadian restaurants have increased the amount of tips servers must share with their colleagues, CBC's Marketplace has learned. And many servers say that money is being doled out to higher-paid staff in lieu of a raise.
"Tipping out" is a common practice in which servers pay into a pool that managers then distribute to non-tip-receiving staff such as hostesses, bussers and kitchen workers.
As businesses grapple with increases to minimum wage, some have cut employee hours, reduced benefits or found other ways to offset increased costs.
In a hidden microphone investigation, Marketplace visited seven randomly selected restaurant chains that had raised servers' tip out percentages since Ontario's minimum wage went from $11.60 to $14 on Jan. 1 (those who serve liquor in licensed establishments saw their minimum hourly wage rise from $10.10 to $12.20).
Many large family dining chains calculate tip out as a percentage — typically between two and five per cent — of each server's total food and beverage sales each shift. If 10 tables each spend $100, the server's tip out could be between $20 and $50.
Apart from Quebec, which does not allow restaurant owners to enforce tip sharing, there are no federal or provincial regulations governing tip out amounts.
Most of the restaurant locations Marketplace visited had bumped the tip out by one percentage point.
For instance, The Keg went from four to five per cent. East Side Mario's from 2.5 to 3.5 per cent.
Earls, a chain with 56 locations across Canada, increased its tip out by 0.5 percentage points, but it had the highest total tip out, at 5.5 per cent.
An employee at Moxie's, which has 66 locations, told Marketplace their tip out was expected to increase to 5.75 per cent, from 4.75.
Servers 'aren't happy'
Ontario and Alberta will both have a $15 minimum wage by this time next year, and in several other provinces, the minimum wage increases each year on a certain date. With those increases, there is pressure on some restaurateurs to also give a salary hike to higher-paid workers, often as an incentive to keep reliable and valuable staff.
"We, the servers, have to pick up the slack," said one employee at a Keg location. "The servers aren't happy about it, but there's nothing we can do."
A server at a popular family dining chain in Alberta says it isn't fair to supplement the higher-paid workers' wages with those of lower-paid ones.
"I am a little frustrated," said Grace Ford. "There's days where I worked 12 hours, and I still give out $80 of my tips that I've worked all day for to people who sometimes mess up [customers'] food … a customer gets mad, it's me who in the long run suffers from it.
"There's money taken out of my pocket that I worked so hard for, and it just disappears and goes to other people who already make more money than I do."
Out of pocket
In statements to Marketplace, the Ontario Ministry of Labour said, "Tip pool money (including tip outs) can only come from an employee's tips or other gratuities, not from any other source."
But tip outs must still be paid when servers don't get tipped, or earn less in tips than what they would have to contribute.
In a restaurant with a five per cent tip-out policy, a server still has to tip out $5 on every $100 tab.
Some employees Marketplace spoke to said they've sometimes had to pay out of their own pockets to make their tip-out contribution.
At one Moxie's location a server told CBC, "The amount of times I've … pretty much had to give the restaurant money out of my pocket, it's a lot."
A server at a Montana's said, "There [were] times that I had a party of 12 … they didn't tip me because they were upset with the food that they got, nothing to do with my service. And I actually paid to come to work."
"Employers are feeling very confident to be able to start changing the tip pool and how it's distributed amongst the staff," says Deena Ladd, a workers' rights advocate.
"And I would say to employers that, you know, part of you running your restaurant is based on customer satisfaction. Do you really want your customers knowing how you're treating your workers?"
She says restaurant owners should be creating a tip pool that is not "taking it out on servers" and that all the employees feel is fair.
In a statement, Earls told Marketplace, "Our people are our greatest asset, and our priority has always been to make sure all roles contributing to the service experience are fairly compensated."
Moxie's said it is confident that all of its policies are lawful and fair.
Sunset Grill referred Marketplace to a CBC story last month that reported the increase in tip outs was made to "bridge the unfair pay equity gap for all non-serving staff."
The Keg, East Side Mario's, Kelsey's and Montana's did not respond to requests for comment.
Restaurants Canada, the group representing the industry, said in a statement, "Tip-pools and tip outs are a way to recognize the efforts of the entire team — from the server to the kitchen staff to the hosts and the bussers."
The group would not publicly disclose its member restaurants. Earls told CBC the organization's statement accurately reflects its point of view.
'Find other ways'
Ford says it's wrong to take more from servers.
"They should stop raising the money that's coming out of my pocket and find other ways to give them higher wages — or increase food prices even," she said.
An Ottawa restaurateur also disagrees with hiking tip outs for servers.
"We felt that some of the models that we're seeing elsewhere is a bit of robbing Peter to pay Paul," said Ivan Getz, owner and manager of Union Local 613. "When we make decisions here, my staff know exactly how much money I make. When we make strategic decisions, they're involved in that process."
His solution? Shaving dollars off his profits and slight increases to menu prices.
"The customer wouldn't even notice it."
By Scott Neigh
Pam Frache is the Ontario coordinator of the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign, which has won major victories around minimum wage increases and reforms to labour law in 2017. And this year, with a provincial election looming, they are facing a major backlash from big business. Frache talks with Scott Neigh about the overall trajectory of the campaign, about the backlash, and about fighting to defend what they won last year.
It is generally true that when social movements or communities-in-struggle win something, that is rarely the end of the story. Whatever powerful interests have been beaten back to win gains for ordinary people tend to retreat temporarily, regroup, and then come back all the fiercer for having been shown to be vulnerable. Movements must then figure out how to defend their gains and, even better, figure out how to embed what they have won in the political landscape such that rolling it back is no longer feasible.
The Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign in Ontario is a good example. Though minimum wage struggles have a much longer history in the province, the current campaign began in 2013 in an intiative spearheaded by the Workers Action Centre in Toronto. There was little movement infrastructure to start with, but in the years since, a province-wide network of workers, community groups, unions, anti-poverty organizations, workers centres, faith groups, health providers, and labour councils has taken shape and, in several stages, pushed forward an ambitious agenda.
In 2017, in the face of growing pressure from this movement, the Liberal provincial government of Premier Kathleen Wynne introduced and ultimately passed legislation making sweeping changes to employment standards. Though the labour law reforms still leave much room for improvement, they are, according to Frache, an "extraordinary start" in terms of improving the lives of low-wage and precarious workers. And despite their earlier insistence that they would not do so, the Liberals ended up giving in to the wage demands too -- the minimum wage went from $11.60/hr to $14/hr as of January 1, 2018, and it is scheduled to go up to $15/hr on January 1, 2019.
While the legislation was being debated, there was no shortage of opposition from corporate interests. And since the minimum wage hike took effect at the beginning of the year, the reaction from the business lobby has been loud and fierce. While it has largely been framed as a defence of small business, actual small business owners seem to be taking a range of positions on the issue, while large corporations and institutions beholden to them drive the backlash. With a provincial election scheduled for June 7, 2018, the big business lobby seems keen to elect a government that will roll back the recent gains by low-wage workers.
Resistance to this big business backlash has been widespread and spirited. Some of it has been spontaneous – for instance, in various cities instances have come to light of businesses retaliating against workers who benefit from the minimum wage hike by clawing back various kinds of perqs and benefits, and in many cases there have been spontaneous local campaigns to shame the businsesses into relenting.
The Fight for $15 and Fairness itself has been doing a number of things to defend the recent gains and to make them harder for any future government to roll back. An important piece of that is doing trainings in a wide range of contexts, particularly with people who do frontline work related to employment, to make sure that as many people as possible know how the new legislation benefits them, and to get as many people as possible accessing the benefits and rights to which they are now entitled. Another piece involves countering scaremongering by the big business lobby by circulating solid research on the actual likely impacts of the minimum wage hike.
Of course, they are also using the movement infrastructure built over the last five years to mobilize people. In particular, they are part of the movement to defend Tim Horton's workers who have had various benefits clawed back at some franchises, despite the fact that the hard work of the mostly low-wage workers at Tim Horton's generates billions of dollars in revenue and hundreds of millions of dollars in profit each year for its parent company, Restaurant Brands International.
And in terms of the provincial election, Frache said, the ultimate goal is to "build a movement so strong that no political party wants to mess with us."
Image: Modified from an image created by Errol Young and used with the permission of the Fight for $15 and Fairness.
By Martin Regg Cohn
There’s a missing ingredient in the battle still brewing at Tim Hortons.
Never mind the conventional narrative of family-owned businesses versus their vulnerable employees. It has more to do with the economic power imbalance when business (big and small) wages war against minimum wage workers who aren’t organized to fight back.
By organized, I mean unionized.
The protective power of unions has been missing from much of the sound and fury over a bunch of Tim Hortons outlets clawing back paid breaks and tips. This isn’t about ideology but practicality.
For the reality is that government can’t legislate against every injustice, the media can’t cover every story, and the public has a limited attention span for Timmies’ double-double troubles. We can’t count on people to protest outside every fast food franchise or supermarket that bullies its workers, or rely on Facebook “likes” as a virtual show of solidarity.
That’s where union locals can make difference.
When Ontario raised the minimum wage to $14 on Jan. 1, a number of Tim Hortons franchises took the path of least resistance by announcing that paid breaks would henceforth be unpaid. Lamentable yet legal — a new law required better wages, so they worsened working conditions.
We live in a culture where everyone likes to play the victim. Heirs to the original Timmies fortune played the small family-owned business card, while Tim Hortons headquarters tried to cast them as “rogue” franchise operators, but there is plenty of guilt to go around.
Canada’s iconic coffee shop is a franchise behemoth controlled by RBI, a monolithic multinational based in Brazil. Everyone at Tim Hortons can try stickhandling the issue after facing off against their own workers, but they still come off as cheapskates — multinational and familial.
And they’re not alone. The T&T Supermarket chain also eliminated paid breaks just ahead of the minimum wage hike to make itself “more competitive.”
The Loblaw-owned company ultimately backed down, as my colleague Sara Mojtehedzadeh reported this month. Perhaps the giant food conglomerate had second thoughts after Loblaw CEO Galen G. Weston first raised the spectre of “a significant set of financial headwinds” from any wage increase.
Note that Weston didn’t dare claw back any paid breaks in its flagship Loblaw supermarkets, doubtless because they are unionized — and the United Food and Commercial Workers would have fought back hard. Unfortunately, a unionization drive at a T&T warehouse fell short a few years ago, leaving employees unprotected when push came to shove more recently.
If employers trample on their rights, minimum wage workers have to stand up for themselves — by joining a union that can push back against companies that push the envelope on pay packets. This isn’t a polemic about the perfection of unions, merely their utility. (Full disclosure — the Toronto Star newsroom is represented by Unifor.)
For all their faults, unions exercise vigilance on behalf of their members, even when outmuscled by powerful employers. Unions can keep a watchful eye on abuses, enable members to file grievances, and tap into the collective resources of the larger labour movement.
It’s not just about the minimum wage.
Sears Canada workers will see their pensions reduced after the company left their plan underfunded while paying out billions in shareholder dividends — again, lamentable yet legal. Unfortunately, major unions that could have organized tens of thousands of Sears workers across the country — and pressured the company into maintaining its pension obligations in good faith — were largely unsuccessful in the face of the company’s strong anti-union tactics.
Even at big centralized employers like Sears or T&T, organizing drives are harder than ever. Amid widespread anti-union sentiment, many workers believe they can look out for themselves — until they can’t.
At smaller, decentralized locations, signing up union members is even tougher. The labour movement appealed to the Ontario government to permit union certification of entire restaurant franchise chains, but the Liberals compromised with legislation allowing only commonly owned franchisee clusters to be organized as one bargaining unit.
A missed opportunity, albeit unsurprising given the ferocious resistance from employers. The Liberals were picking their battles, calculating that a minimum wage hike and other workplace reforms would create less opposition going into an election.
But the subsequent public outcry over the Tim Hortons controversy suggests an opportunity to go further with labour reforms. Not just by improving working conditions, but also unionization conditions that help level the playing field.
Martin Regg Cohn’s political column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. [email protected], Twitter: @reggcohn
By Jacqueline Hansen
Jacqueline Hansen looks at why more women than men are still at the bottom end of the income ladder
Financial Post: Ontario minimum wage hike having 'trickle up' effect on paycheques of higher earners
By Aleksandra Sagan
Many companies have bumped the hourly pay for employees who were making close to the new $14 an hour minimum
Nick Cluley and his wife, who have always paid their Coffee Public employees more than minimum wage, have boosted everyone’s pay by $1.25 an hour since Jan. 1 — not just those earning below $14, as a new Ontario law required.
They did that “to avoid tensions that might come from more experienced people, you know, being crunched right up against the same salary as someone that just started,” he said.
The new starting wage is $14.75, though the staff average is closer to $15.45, he said, adding they raised prices by about 10 per cent on everything they serve in their Toronto and Port Hope, Ont., shops.
From small mom-and-pop shops to a discount retail giant, there are already examples of companies that have bumped the hourly pay for employees who were making close to the new $14 an hour minimum — suggesting Ontario’s recent minimum wage hike is affecting more than just the lowest paid workers.
There’s little question that a minimum wage hike in Ontario will have a “trickle up” effect to raise wages for other workers, said Bernard Wolf, a professor emeritus at York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto.
“The question is simply how much and how pervasive that is,” he said, adding it’s likely a considerable number of employers in Ontario — where the minimum wage rose to $14 on Jan. 1, 2018 — will make such a move.
That ripple effect through the economy comes as employees who find minimum wage has now risen close to what they’re earning ask for raises to reflect their comparative skill level, Wolf said, or because their cost-of-living has increased as the price of goods goes up to offset the higher labour cost.
For employers already making the move, they benefit from positioning themselves as the good guy compared to other companies that raised the ire of consumers for clawing back employee benefits and other perks instead, he said.
Union Local 613 co-owner Ivan Gedz raised wages for all his kitchen staff to $16 in November, after realizing his Ottawa eatery could not only meet the new minimum in January, but surpass it.
The raises, which amount to between 50 cents and as much as $4 per hour depending on the employee, reflect Gedz’s belief in equality and because he realized the situation presented an opportunity to be an industry leader, he said. He raised prices on some items to offset the hit to his bottom line.
But small businesses aren’t the only ones setting a higher bar.
Walmart Canada, which employs more than 95,000 associates, increased its starting minimum wage on Dec. 23, 2017 just ahead of the Ontario-wide hike, said spokeswoman Anika Malik, adding all the company’s associates earn more than their provincial minimum wage.
“All pay bands also moved up accordingly to maintain appropriate relative compensation at all levels,” she said. The company isn’t cutting any roles, and employees will still be eligible for bonuses and performance increases, Malik said.
Meanwhile, one coffee chain has applied the pay increase to more than just their Ontario-based employees.
JJ Bean Coffee Roasters, which has more than a dozen locations across Toronto and Vancouver, first increased wages in Toronto on Dec. 17, 2017 and followed suit in Vancouver on Jan. 14, 2018, according to a letter from its senior leadership team.
Its national starting wage is now $14 an hour, and it increased wages for all employees making below $20 hourly. The company increased prices at its cafes by one to three per cent.
“We believe people have intrinsic value and that everyone who takes part in the journey of coffee — from farmers to baristas — deserves to be fairly rewarded for their work,” the letter reads.
Protesters in Regina are asking for a higher minimum wage in the province, showing solidarity for Tim Hortons employees in Ontario.
Protest organizer Deena Ladd and fair economy campaigner Brittany Smith says this is such an amazing response from customers across Canada.
By Sara Mojtehedzadeh
Protesters rallied across Canada calling on Tim Hortons’ franchisees and their parent company Restaurant Brands International to reverse claw-backs to workers’ benefits, tips and other entitlements — changes implemented at some Ontario locations following a $2.40- hike to the minimum wage.
Demonstrators aimed to gather at 42 Ontario locations Friday, including 20 in Toronto. Eleven more rallies were scheduled to take place across Canada, according to organizers, who belong to the Fight-for-$15 movement, the Ontario Federation of Labour, and the independent advocacy group Lead Now.
Protests from Vancouver to Halifax were pulled together in just four days, said Lead Now campaigner Brittany Smith, following what she describes as an outpouring of support for workers facing slashed breaks and benefits at the country’s most popular coffee chain.
“They have a near religious brand in Canada,” Smith told the Star. “A family-friendly coffee shop for the average worker that takes cares and invests in the communities it serves. I think these punitive attacks on workers fly in the face of the values that it purports to have.”
A crowd of around 30 protesters converged at a Tim Hortons opposite Queen’s Park on Friday afternoon, eliciting rounds of honks from passing vehicles. The rally was marshaled by healthcare providers from the Decent Work and Health Network, which testified in support of the minimum wage increase during the government’s two-year review of workplace legislation.
“As a family physician, the impact of work on health is very clear to me. It’s something I see every day,” said Toronto-based doctor Ritika Goel, a member of the Decent Work and Health Network.
“I have many patients who are minimum-wage workers in the fast-food industry and it’s very clear that access to paid sick days, access to benefits, access to paid breaks . . . these things all improve their mental well-being. They improve their health.”
Ontario raised the minimum wage from $11.60 to $14 on Jan. 1. In response, some employers moved to offset the increased labour costs by eliminating paid breaks or increasing workers’ contributions for benefits, including at Tim Hortons restaurants in Cobourg owned by Jeri Horton-Joyce and Ron Joyce Jr., the children of the chain’s founders.
As previously reported by the Star, workers at a Scarborough franchise at Markham and Lawrence were also told they could no longer accept tips or have paid breaks. Last week, labour groups circulated a statement apparently posted by owners of a Whitby franchise that encouraged workers not to vote Liberal because of the wage increase.
Franchisees have asked RBI to increase store prices to offset the wage-hike cost, but the corporate parent has dubbed them a “rogue group,” and claimed that their actions “do not reflect the values of our brand.” RBI also says it considers its franchises to be “operated by small business owners who are responsible for handling all employment matters, including all policies for benefits and wages, for their restaurants.”
The issue has become a flashpoint in the debate over precarious work and how best to address it.
Sweeping labour reforms introduced by the government through Bill 148 were aimed to provide greater protections for low-wage, part-time, and temporary workers and introduced two paid sick days for all Ontarians. But some business groups expressed concern that the measures, in particular the minimum wage hike, would be prohibitively costly for companies.
A group of 53 Canadian economists endorsed Ontario’s decision to hike the minimum wage, arguing that the bulk of academic research conducted on wage increases in other jurisdictions have not resulted in significant job losses or price increases.
“This is not just a flash-in-the-pan action,” Deena Ladd of the Worker’s Action Centre at Friday’s protest. “This actually a deeper issue of people really supporting the minimum wage and supporting better rights and working conditions.”
Ladd said the Tim Hortons’ backlash pointed to the need for further action, such as enacting protections in Ontario employment law for “concerted activity,” and against unjust dismissal. (“Concerted activity” is a term used to describe groups of employees coming together, with or without a union, to improve pay and working conditions.)
According to the Great White North Franchisee Association, which represents around half of Timmies’ franchisees in Canada, the cost of implementing minimum wage hikes is $6,968 per employee. The Association said the average franchise has around 35 employees, resulting in “$243,889 a year off a franchisee’s bottom line.”
In a letter to the organization’s chief executive officer Daniel Schwartz, Ontario Federation of Labour head Chris Buckley called on the parent company to take “immediate steps” to ensure franchise owners respect labour laws.
“Stating your disdain for the actions of ‘rogue’ franchise owners is not enough to resolve this unfortunate situation,” the letter said.
Total sales for Tim Hortons franchises in 2016 were $6.4 billion, according to its latest year-end report.
As a part of the nation-wide day of action, protestors gathered in Halifax to rally in support of Tim Hortons workers in Ontario.
Protesters are angered by some Tim Hortons franchisees who slashed workers' benefits and breaks after the province raised its minimum wage.
About 50 demonstrations were planned in cities across the country on Friday, although at least 38 were based in Ontario, including 18 planned in Toronto. As of Dec. 31, 2016, the number of Tim Hortons locations in Canada was 3,801.
Other cities involved in the protest included Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, Vancouver and two other cities in British Columbia.
About 40 people marched up the middle of Spring Garden Road in Halifax, N.S. in solidarity with the workers Friday.
The group stopped in front of the Tim Hortons to wave their signs and chant a message that has spread from the situation west of the province gaining national attention.
“Workers and community organizations across the country are watching,” said one protester.
Rally goers in Halifax said they’re fighting for a $15 an hour minimum wage, as well as sick days and paid breaks.
Protesters also got signatures for their petition, asking the Nova Scotia government to increase the minimum wage.
“I believe that people need to make enough money to live,” said protester, Beth Pulos.
Nova Scotia has the lowest minimum wage in Canada with the current minimum wage being $10.85. The province raised the wage by 15 cents last year.
“Anyone who thinks that we can function effectively in the $15 world as a 15 cent jurisdiction is not being economically realistic. that's where our government is,” said NDP leader, Gary Burrill.
Protesters said big businesses like Tim Hortons could easily absorb a bump to minimum wage, but smaller restaurants would have to make some changes to accommodate the higher wage.
“Food prices would increase, or you're going to have to look at your systems and cut expenses elsewhere. Either find cheaper options or look at your whole system and find out if there's more efficient ways you can do stuff,” said Halifax restaurant owner, Cory Urqhart.
Urqhart has 13 employees at Envie and the servers start at minimum wage. All of the employees receive health benefits and paid breaks and he said he doesn't want to change that.
Urqhart also said introducing a higher minimum wage over a period of a few years would be a good start for a small business like his.
President of the Halifax Dartmouth and District Labour Council, Suzanne MacNeil was among one of those at the protest and she said it’s the big businesses rally goers want to reach.
“We think that if business owners are depending on paying poverty wages in order to give hundreds of millions in profits to their shareholders, then we say, they need to rethink their business plan,” she said.
Rally organizers said they’re planning another rally in about a month and they believe it’s important to keep the pressure on the province and big coporations to let them know their workers are watching.
Tim Hortons has said the employee benefit cutbacks made by some franchises in Ontario "do not reflect the values of our brand, the views of our company, or the views of the overwhelming majority" of restaurant owners.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Emily Baron Cadloff and David Hodges of the Canadian Press.