The heavy-handed response by some individual business owners to the Ontario government’s legislated minimum wage rise (from $11.60 to $14/hour) should shock the conscience of the community—and that includes the business community.
Certain Tim Horton’s franchisees have been in the news recently, reacting to the increase by slashing their contributions to employee benefits, and doing away with paid breaks. Billionaire Ron Joyce Jr., descendant of the founders of Tim Horton’s, was one of these. He could not be reached for comment at his winter home in Florida.
The result? One employee calculated that their paycheque would actually shrink by $51 every two weeks. Organizers in the Fight for $15 and Fairness movement fought hard to win a higher minimum wage, and now a minority of employers are engaged in open class warfare.
Sometimes it is hard to see the logic, even given the profit incentive. One Tim’s banned customer tips for its workers, for example: this move seems to have been motivated solely by spite.
The retaliation game is spreading. In several cases, a higher “tip-out” has been imposed on serving staff. (Tips for servers are calculated, not on what they actually receive, but as a percentage of the customer bill. Some of that money, the “tip-out,” is paid to the management, and reallocated to non-serving staff.)
This is intended to avoid raising wages for those non-servers, such as cooks, already making more than the new wage minimum. Front-line staff, in other words, are forced to pay for the employer’s parsimony.
Sunset Grill has taken this route, and here in Ottawa, it allegedly fired an employee for speaking out about it to fellow employees. Wimpy’s and East Side Mario’s have done the same. Clocktower Pub is no longer including dishwashers in their tip-out, claiming that the new minimum wage should be enough for them.
None of this is right or fair. All of us, including business owners who know the value of injecting more money into the local economy—which a minimum wage rise does—need to speak out.
Some already are. Ivan Gedz owns the Union Local 613 restaurant on Somerset Street. Weeks before the $14 minimum kicked in, he set his own—his lowest-paid employee has been making $16/hour since November 2017. Fair wages are entirely achievable, in other words, even within the highly competitive restaurant industry.
Gedz has little time for the current retaliation measures: “There’s an incredible amount of entitlement among owners,” he says. “The term itself, I think owners think they own their employees, to be honest with you.”
The Workers’ Action Centre in Toronto has a hotline for workers across the province to call if they are being mistreated or their rights are being violated: 1-855-531-0778. I also set up a petition asking the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce to take a stand against bullying.
Like the Better Business Bureau, the Chamber has a stake in ethical business conduct. It would be good for Ottawa to hear from them at this point. I was raised by a small business family who respected those who worked with us, and never condoned profiting at their expense.
The lowest-paid workers in Ottawa and across the province deserve decent work and an end to poverty wages. It’s up to all of us to stand up with them—and, by so doing, to build a stronger community.
There are demonstrations taking place on January 10 across Ontario in support Tim Hortons workers and all workers whose rights are under attack. Click here to find an updated list of actions.
Joel Harden is the provincial NDP candidate for Ottawa Centre.