Hortonsgate: The Fingerpointing Continues

tim_hortonsThere have been a few articles since I first posted about Hortonsgate, the “scandal” around a Tim Hortons franchise in Ontario that, when the provincial government raised the minimum wage by 20%, cancelled some benefits that they had formerly been giving their employees. Yesterday, the CBC published a new article: Tim Hortons franchise owners tell workers to blame Wynne for benefit cuts and to ‘not vote Liberal’.

A staff memo written by a couple of Tim Hortons franchise owners in Whitby, Ont., blames cuts to employee benefits on the Ontario government and its minimum wage hike.

So another franchise owner is pointing the finger at the province.

The notice also suggests employees contact Premier Kathleen Wynne if they have concerns about the changes — and let her know she doesn’t have their support.

If you are an employee, do you believe that your employer is making changes in your benefits because the government has altered the minimum wage? If you don’t, what do you believe? If you believe that your employer is malicious, will you continue to work for them? If you do believe them, and you are unhappy with the changes, by all means, let the government know.

“I encourage you to let her know how your workplace will change as a result of her new [minimum wage] law and that you will not vote Liberal in the coming Ontario election in June 2018,” says the notice, which lists Susan and Jason Holman as the authors.

Assuming you buy their reasoning, whether you decide you don’t support the government is still a serious question. This is only one issue after all, and just because you were negatively affected doesn’t mean that the minimum wage increase doesn’t benefit the majority.

 

“The political part of the note infuriated me,” a worker said in an email. “I can not say for certain that it has in fact convinced [employees] to blame Wynne, or turned them away from [the] Liberals, but that’s certainly the intent of the letter, and I’m sure seeds have definitely been planted because of it.”

Getting people to think before voting is a good thing. If, on balance, they like what the Liberals have done, the letter probably won’t matter. Only people who are politically unaware are likely to be swayed by a single issue, even one that affects them directly. I would think that having your benefits cut would be more infuriating than the political commentary, but I suppose it was icing on the cake.

In the notice, the Holmans say workplace changes were necessary “to stay in business,” but the employee claims it’s unfair for them to blame the Ontario government for the cuts.

While their claim that the increased costs would put them out of business may be untrue, it is reasonable to blame the cuts on the increased costs due to the higher minimum wage.

“The only person to blame for these changes is the one who made them … and the one who doesn’t think we are deserving of this pay wage,” said the worker, who claims before the rollbacks, the Tim Hortons location was a good place to work.

Assuming that they were paying less than the new minimum, it is clear that the owners did not think the employees deserved the new wage along with the benefits that they cut, or they would have given it to employees before the law forced them to.

The individual also said the owners have informed employees the changes may only be temporary, depending on how the situation plays out.

If this is really how the owners phrased it, it seems like a very empty promise.

CBC News reached franchise owner Jason Holman by phone at a Tim Hortons in Whitby. He declined to comment on the notice or the employee benefit cuts, saying he isn’t “media savvy” and that CBC News should contact head office. “I don’t want to be rude because I’m not a rude individual. I know you’re just trying to do your job, but there’s no comment,” he said. “You’re going to have to accept that.” CBC News pointed out that the notice encouraging workers to blame the Liberal government had already been posted on social media, and was being widely shared. “I don’t care,” he said.

Even by what CBC reports here, it sounds like they were pressuring Holman. I’m not surprised he didn’t want to comment.

Premier Wynne weighed in Friday on the issue, tweeting, “I’m happy to talk to any business owner about the minimum wage but taking it out on employees is not fair and not acceptable.”

This tweet tells me that Wynne either doesn’t understand free market economics (which seems unlikely) or is ideologically opposed to the free market. Either way, I see why franchise owners would encourage their employees to support someone else.

Tiffany Balducci, second vice-president of the Durham Labour Region Council, obtained a copy from a tipster, and another labour group posted it on Facebook. “I was surprised to see that an employer would be telling their employees how they should be voting and bringing politics into the workplace,” Balducci said.

Someone in the labor movement is surprised that politics are being brought up in the workplace? That’s laughable.

She says it’s unfair to tell workers that if they don’t like the benefit cuts at their workplace, they should contact the premier.

How is that unfair? Surely, if anything, it’s the fact that benefits were cut that is unfair.

“It shouldn’t be on the lowest-paid workers to just try to sort this out.”

Well, they are the ones affected. Workers making more than the new minimum wage are hardly likely to complain. I’m sure that the franchise owners have already done all they could to dissuade the government from the increase. But even if workers complain to the government, I expect their complaints will fall on deaf ears.

 

“Not only to cut [paid] breaks and take things away from your workers, but to blame it on the government?” said Balducci. “Maybe [franchise owners] should be talking to their parent company.”

Well, as previously reported, they did.

The Great White North Franchisee Association defended the rollbacks, stating that head office won’t let franchise owners offset the minimum wage hike in other ways, such as by raising prices.

So the corporation won’t let the franchise owners pass on their increased costs to their customers. Interesting that Wynne didn’t point the finger at them, rather than at the franchise owners.

Tim Hortons — which is owned by multinational Restaurant Brands International (RBI) — said individual franchise owners are responsible for handling all employment matters.

Nice dodge.

It also blamed the recent controversy over benefit rollbacks on a “rogue group” of franchise owners who “do not reflect the values of our brand.”

Wow. So you buy an expensive franchise from Tim Hortons, then the government increases your labor costs by 20%, then Tim Horton’s refuses to let you increase prices to make up the difference, and then they point the finger at you? Who is going to buy a Tim Hortons franchise knowing this is how they treat their franchisees?

Today, labour activists are holding rallies at more than 40 Tim Hortons across the country to send a message to RBI that it needs to take action to guarantee that its employees are treated fairly.

So, who is the villain in all this? Clearly, the employees are the victims. I don’t blame the franchise owners either. They are merely trying to make a living. I think the Ontario government did a piss poor job of phasing in the higher rate, but I don’t think they were being malicious either.

That leaves the corporation, RBI. Maybe RBI should have worked with their franchisees to come up with a unified strategy instead of telling them they were solely responsible for dealing with the change. Now, the Tim Hortons brand is being hurt both by protests and by the fact that RBI don’t stand up for their franchise owners or their employees.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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