by David Bush, Gerard Di Trolio and Doug Nesbitt
Five days into 2018 and the $14 minimum wage has a number of Ontario employers losing their minds. Meanwhile, Canada’s top CEOs made the average Canadian salary by 11 am on January 2.
In Cobourg, Tim Hortons franchises owned by the children of the chain’s founders have already cut paid breaks and forced their employees to contribute more to their benefits. The silver-spooned heirs, Ron Joyce Jr. and Jeri-Lynn Horton-Royce, didn’t deliver the news in person. They’re enjoying their winter home in Florida while their employees are losing paid breaks in record-setting freezing temperatures.
It’s bigger than one owner
Now we’re hearing that Tim Hortons workers in other parts of the province are facing the same attacks from different franchise owners.
Stupidity and greed is making the news every day. Sunset Grill appears to be stealing wages from its employees by increasing the amount they tip out at the end of a shift – and then keeping those tips. Reports are coming in from Wimpy’s and East Side Mario’s workers that owners are also increasing tip-outs.
A Chatham auto dealership Victory Ford Lincoln has declared their casual drivers are no longer employees to be paid hourly but “independent contractors” to be paid “per trip”.
The owner of Shorty’s Grill in Owen Sound is now whining with the ridiculous claim about making less per hour than his staff.
The media and public opinion
Meanwhile, the CBC and Toronto Star have splashed sensational headlines about the Bank of Canada predicting 60,000 job losses from minimum wage increases. But the editors of both these news outlets totally misrepresented the actual report. As economist Michal Rozworski points out, the two articles are actually favourable to the minimum wage increases but the headlines totally misleading. On top of this, the scary 60,000 job loss number is a national statistic about slower job growth, not actual pink slips in Ontario.
We shouldn’t expect the media to do us any favours. They’re still in the habit of taking employer claims about the impact of minimum wage hikes at face value. Compare this to their coverage of wealthy tax avoiders. The media is always so careful to say everything is legal.
On the plus side, 60 percent of Ontarians support the $15 minimum wage increase by 2019 with only 30 percent opposed. Not bad after months of fearmongering and bogus propaganda about job losses. Even 40 percent of Tories support the $15 minimum wage increase by 2019, all of which is important to remember if Ontario winds up with Patrick Brown as Premier after the June election. We definitely need to keep fighting for $15 in 2018.
How do we fightback?
Looking at these poll numbers, it makes sense why Premier Wynne is calling the Tim Hortons franchise owners bullies. But this Premier just rammed through strikebreaking legislation against college faculty. Unfortunately, Andrea Horwath hasn’t come out swinging on behalf of workers, only trying to score points by attacking Wynne. This has unfortunately ceded the ground of standing up for low-wage workers to the Liberals.
Like the media, politicians aren’t going to do us any favours. A lot of people inside and outside unions get this and are already moving into action naming and shaming these employers. The question is, what can we do?
Boycotting employers is a noble sentiment. Where we spend our money is one thing, but there’s a far bigger opportunity to engage low-wage workers, build workers power, and send a message to employers and government. Trade unionists can’t also sit around and point out that Tim Hortons workers would be better off with a union. It is going to take a lot of confidence-building and organization to really open the floodgates of unionization.
Cobourg and Hamilton show the way!
People in Cobourg and Hamilton are pointing the way forward. With the support of the Durham Region and Northumberland Labour Councils, there’s a January 10 mass picket of one of the offending Tim Hortons stores. The same thing is happening at a Tim Hortons on the same day in Dundas, near Hamilton, backed by the Hamilton & District Labour Council. This is a great start.
Now is the time to organize mass pickets to target public cases of bad bosses attacking their workers over the $14 minimum wage. Local activists and trade unionists moving together and carrying out smart, public actions that punish the boss – and not the workers on the inside – is an effective path forward.
Every employer that dares to attack its workers over the minimum wage increase needs to be hit publicly with protest, whether at their stores, their offices, their homes. But let’s not piss off the workers inside. They are our allies and the people who have the real power to transform their workplaces through organizing and collective struggle.
Let’s think long-term, too. Let’s get talking to these workers on the inside and find the people we can work with. If even one worker is ready to organize, then they need to know dozens and hundreds of people in the community have their backs.
This is also the time to keep building the community-based Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign across the province. The campaign has been built on unity between union and non-union workers and this is one of its big strengths. This is an opportunity to invite new layers of community members and workers to be part of the movement and transform their outrage against bully bosses into action.
If you are not involved in the campaign now is the time to join a local group or start a local chapter of the Fight for $15 and Fairness in your community.
There is a lot riding on how the labour movement responds to these bully bosses. The advances in Bill 148 are imperfect but they are the biggest step forward in labour standards in a quarter century. If we fail to defend the gains in Bill 148, there is no chance we can fight for even stronger protections and rights for workers. If we can’t defend these gains, there is every chance that employers will be emboldened to step up their attacks. In all likelihood this would pave the way for a Patrick Brown election victory in June.
If we can make the bosses pay now, defend the gains we have won, and keep building the confidence and capacity of the workers we can roll up the bosses and win.