“No sugar, no cream, Tim Hortons don’t be mean.”
This was just one of the catchier slogans the group of about 25 strong standing in front of a Toronto Tim Hortons on Wednesday chanted. This protest wasn’t unique; throughout the day on Wednesday, at least 15 demonstrations took place across the province. After a week of Canadians being extremely mad online, VICE visited several of the rallies in Toronto to see just how pissed off Canucks were at their favourite coffee shop.
Organized in less than 48 hours by activists with Fight for $15 and Fairness and Workers' Action Centre, the rallies were held across Ontario in major cities like Toronto, others in small towns like Cobourg. The unifying factor among the various protests was anger over the way in which a number of Tim Hortons franchises were treating their workers.
The rallies were sparked by the news that some Tim Horton franchisees, in response to a recent minimum wage hike, decided to claw back their worker's benefits and paid breaks. The minimum wage hike—introduced by the Ontario government in November—saw Ontario’s wage go from $11.40 to $14 at the start of the new year and will jump to $15 next year.
The main catalyst for the discontent was the franchise in Cobourg run by Tim Horton's heirs Jeri-Lynn Horton-Joyce (Tim Horton’s daughter) and Ron Joyce Jr. (the son of Ron Joyce, who co-founded the chain). According to Forbes, Ron Joyce Jr.’s father is worth is about $1.4 billion and the stark difference between the net worth of the owners and their treatment of the workers pissed off a hell of a lot of Canadians.
Pam Frache is the coordinator behind the 15 for Fairness movement in Ontario and was a key figure in putting together the rallies across the province. Frache told VICE she felt "revulsion and disgust" upon hearing about the Cobourg franchise employees and believes that many Canadians feel similar.
"If you imagine what it was like for ordinary working people to read the story about how the heirs to the Tim Hortons fortune sitting poolside from their villa in Florida to be issuing a memo to the workers in Cobourg saying 'as a result of the minimum wage increase, we're no longer going to be giving you paid breaks and we're going to make your basic health and dental benefits more expensive It's such a cruel and callous thing to do,” said Frache outside a Bloor Street Tim Hortons.
"People are outraged across Ontario, across Canada and actually, increasingly, internationally as well.”
A little later in the day, another action took place in a York University food court—a place that isn’t exactly conducive to protests or rallies. Despite the awkward setting, which, admittedly, allowed the protesters escape the cold weather, about 30 people handed out leaflets.
Alex Hunsberger, a 27-year-old law student at the university, helped organize the campaign. Hunsberger told VICE that the focus of the rallies was to get Restaurant Brands International (RBI), the owners of Tim Hortons (as well as Burger King and Popeyes) to “put their money where their mouth is and actually force their franchisees to keep their hands off their workers wages, benefits, breaks and other things workers have received.”
After backlash against the franchisees cutting benefits reached a fever pitch, RBI released a statement saying, “These recent actions by a few restaurant owners, and the unauthorized statements made to the media by a ‘rogue group’ claiming to speak on behalf of Tim Hortons, do not reflect the values of our brand, the views of our company or the views of the overwhelming majority of our dedicated and hardworking Restaurant Owners.”
Due to the number of rallies, many protesters attended more than just one. A familiar face at several was Beixi Liu, who was accompanied by a sign made specifically for selfies. As the rain came down outside yet another Tim Hortons—this one on Bloor Street in Toronto—Liu told VICE that the rallies weren’t going to stop and that one was already planned for next Monday outside of RBI’s headquarters.
"Tim Hortons should take responsibility, look at CEO Daniel Schwartz,” Lui told VICE. “He makes over 300 times what the average Tim Hortons [worker] makes in a year. He makes almost $7 million and workers barely make $20,000 a year, that's outrageous. He should show leadership to do things fair and treat workers fairly.”
Next to Lui, chanting away, was a man named Dante Pettapicce, a student at the University of Toronto who said he has managed a cafe in the past. Pettapicce told VICE that he feels for the franchise owners in regards to the changes but that the onus is on them to not take it out on their workers and for the corporate side of the business to help the franchisees.
"The drive for profit shouldn't be shifted back onto the workers,” said Pettapicce. “If the business owners want to band together, if they want to go protest against a property tax they can do it, don't shift it back to us, we're the ones trying to get out from under everything."
"It's really disappointing that today there still isn't compassion,” he added. “I don't know how to label it, but there isn't a lot of appreciation for where everyone else is, where the working class is.”
The protests did seemingly little to affect business, however, as there was a steady stream of customers going in and out of Timmy’s throughout—although some would hide their face from the protesters. While the point of this particular action wasn’t a boycott—a popular meme on social media called for one on Tuesday—some of the protests did weakly yell “c’mon guys, boycott” but they were, obviously, fighting a losing battle.
That didn’t bother the organizers, however. They believe the damage has already been done to Tim Horton's reputation.
“You’ve seen all the commercials of people dropping their kids off at hockey practice or politicians saying they’re a ‘Tim Hortons person’ as a synonym for a common person,” Hunsberger told VICE. “They’ve tied themselves to Canadian identity. What we’re saying is that we don’t think the values that are being shown here by the franchisees are Canadian values in terms of fairness, decency, honesty—those values that are important to Canadians.”
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