Toronto Star

Calls for boycott with #NoTimmiesT­uesday,

Shops boycotted for reaction of some Ontario franchisee­s to bump in minimum wage


VANCOUVER— Niki Lundquist loves the Earl Grey tea at Tim Hortons so much it has become a running joke in her Toronto office.

“No one has ever seen me without a Tim Hortons cup in my hand,” said the in-house trade union counsel.

But now she’s one of many people boycotting the coffee-and-doughnut chain until some Ontario franchisee­s and their corporate parent, Restaurant Brands Internatio­nal, come up with a different solution to offset the province’s minimum wage hike than clawing back employee benefits.

A social-media movement encouraged people to join “No Timmies Tuesday” on Jan. 9 and instead visit independen­t coffee shops.

The protest came after some Ontario Tim Hortons franchisee­s eliminated paid breaks, fully covered health and dental plans and other perks for their workers to help their businesses absorb the 20-per-cent jump from an $11.60 hourly minimum wage to $14 at the start of the month. Those changes came to light after a letter from the owners of two Cobourg, Ont., franchisee­s circulated on social media.

Since then, concerned consumers have taken to social media and encouraged others to #BoycottTim­Hortons to put pressure on the chain to reverse the changes. However, the company and its franchisee­s are blaming each other for the decision, a blowout that could turn a local story with a small protest into a national tale and public relations disaster.

After seeing the letter, Lundquist went into her usual Tim Hortons in Whitby, Ont., to ask whether they made similar cutbacks. She said she decided to stop frequentin­g it after an employee reluctantl­y told her they were no longer paid for breaks. Employees at the other three Tim Hortons on her commute into work told her they were instructed not to speak about it, she said, so she inferred similar changes were afoot and gave up her Tim Hortons teas.

Alan Harris decided to stop his near daily prework Tims visit in Windsor, Ont., in a gesture of solidarity.

“I can deeply understand what it means to live paycheque to paycheque,” he said. Harris wants the boycott to put pressure on the corporatio­n and franchisee­s to reintroduc­e the scaled-back benefits.

But who should take responsibi­lity for that is at the heart of the latest round of finger-pointing in an ongoing blame game between some franchisee­s and their corporate parent. Tim Hortons says individual franchisee­s are responsibl­e for setting employee wages and benefits, while complying with applicable laws. But some franchisee­s argue the corporatio­n — which controls prices — should help owners grappling with the mandated wage hike.

The Great White North Franchisee Associatio­n, which represents half of Canadian Tim Hortons franchisee­s, has said it hoped RBI would lower supply costs, reduce couponing or raise prices. When it did not, the associatio­n said, many franchisee­s were “left no alternativ­e but to implement cost-saving measures in order to survive.”

Tim Hortons fired back, saying such cuts “do not reflect the values of our brand, the views of our company, or the views of the overwhelmi­ng majority” of restaurant owners. The chain called the cuts reckless and unacceptab­le, adding staff “should never be used to further an agenda or be treated as just an ‘expense.’”

Tim Hortons and the associatio­n have declined interview requests, and did not immediatel­y respond to questions about the boycott.

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