Canadians, labour groups unite in day of action to support Tim Hortons employees

On Jan. 19, the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Fight for $15 and Fairness Campaign organized a nationwide day of action in support of Tim Hortons employees after certain franchises announced cutbacks following the minimum wage hike on Jan. 1.

The cutbacks include reduced employee discounts on required items such as uniforms, shortened hours, and a loss of health benefits.

The demonstrations took place outside 50 stores across the country, including one on Montreal road in Ottawa, to send a message to Restaurant Brands International (RBI), Tim Hortons’ parent company.

This larger protest came two weeks after a province-wide day of action by the same groups with demonstrations being held across Ontario, including at Ottawa’s Sparks St. location.

“We’re not calling for a boycott,” said Karen Cocq, one of the organizers from the Fight for $15 and Fairness Campaign, explaining that while the social media outrage that sparked #NoTimmiesTuesday and #BoycottTimHortons is a step in the right direction, it may not be the best course of action for employees.

“Boycotts can be effective but only when the workers who are affected are involved in the decisions to do a boycott, and that’s not the case with the Tim Hortons situation,” Cocq said, but added that she feels it’s “telling that, without (labour groups) having to do much, the public response (to the cutbacks) was very negative.”

Tim Hortons released a statement following the backlash claiming that these “few reckless” restaurant franchises do not reflect the values of the company, but Cocq feels differently.

“That’s them hiding behind the franchise system which is designed precisely to allow them to say things like that,” she said. “Because the franchise owners are arm’s length, they can’t be responsible for any workplace violations and labour violations.”

However, Cocq hopes that these demonstrations will influence Tim Hortons’ headquarters and RBI to take responsibility for their franchises by dictating that the retaliation against workers stop.

She also explained that these actions are in solidarity with workers who have been silenced through employer intimidation and gag orders.

“The message really was that we’re here to show up for workers. We’re here to say we support you, we do think that you deserve better also.”

The Fight for $15 and Fairness Campaign has been pushing for a minimum wage increase for years now, and Cocq says that she’s not surprised by the response to the hike, detailing that the backlash started before the law was even passed, naming the Ontario Chamber of Commerce as a mobilizing inciter.

“We were ready to target some of the bigger corporations, and the bigger business interests that we knew were going to come out kicking and screaming,” she said. What they didn’t anticipate however, was that it was going to be Tim Hortons, or that it would be so soon, according to Cocq.

Tim Hortons has not commented on the situation since releasing their original statement, but Cocq says that momentum is building.

“People really find this outrageous, and I think that speaks to the change in consciousness that has happened over the course of this campaign, where workers rights is now suddenly an issue that people are talking about in a way that we haven’t really seen in this province in a long time.”

“The pressure is mounting so much that they’re going to have to respond soon.”