About 15 people with a new organization called Rights At Work Nova Scotia held a noon rally on Wednesday outside the Tim Hortons on Spring Garden Road to push for a higher minimum wage and for unionization of fast-food workers.
Rally organizer Judy Haiven, a retired industrial relations professor from Saint Mary’s University’s school of business, said the group also wanted to show support for workers at some Tim Hortons outlets in Ontario whose benefits are being cut in the wake of a provincial minimum wage increase there.
“Almost one in 10 workers earn minimum wage, or thereabouts,” she said as people streamed past the busy sidewalk during a snowy lunch hour.
“I think it’s closer to 15 per cent earn around minimum wage, and that’s appalling. No one can live in the province, least of all in Halifax, for that kind of money.”
The rally was intended to provide information for the public and support for workers, not to block access to the Tim Hortons, Haiven said.
On Jan. 1, the minimum wage in Ontario jumped from $11.60 per hour to $14 and is set to hit $15 an hour next January.
Although some Tim Hortons franchise owners cut staff benefits as a result, the corporation said on its website “the actions of a reckless few” are jeopardizing the brand.
Instead, the website said, the company is trying to help franchisees through the wage increase and said staff members should not be viewed as just an expense.
Alberta is expected to hike its minimum wage to $15 later this year and British Columbia is on track to reach that minimum by 2021.
The minimum wage in Nova Scotia is currently $10.85 an hour, which is the lowest in the country.
Haiven said that makes Nova Scotia a “low-wage ghetto.”
Raising the minimum wage overall would help provide a boost to the economy, she said.
“If we raise the minimum wage, it raises all people’s wages,” Haiven said. “It has a knock-on effect.”
A living wage should be around $19 an hour, she said, but even at $15, people will have more money to spend and lower-income earners are the ones most likely to spend that extra money in the local economy.
Sylvain Charlebois, dean of management at Dalhousie University’s school of business, has argued that food services are not a good example because wages tend to make up a large part of their costs. But Haiven said that’s not the point.
“The executives of the parent corporation are making $6 million a year,” she said. “The problem here is that none of the people that own the franchises, or the home office, wants to lose its profits, and unfortunately, this is what we’re fighting.”
Benjamin Jones, a former employee of the coffee shop, happened to walk past the rally. He and a buddy stopped to talk to a couple of the participants and said he agreed with their aims.
“I’m not surprised about this protest because when I worked at Tim Hortons, how the employees were treated wasn’t equal,” the 25-year-old said.
“Seeing this three years later, it just kind of makes sense. The whole minimum wage thing and what they’ve done to their employees, it totally goes with all the things I’ve seen since I worked there. I’m really glad that people are starting to notice that, because Tim Hortons is a really huge part of the Canadian culture.
“The people working there, since it’s such a large part of the Canadian culture, should really be appreciated more and made sure that they’re looked after.”
Mark Dobson, Atlantic regional director for the United Food and Commercial Workers, carried a flag and handed out pamphlets on the sidewalk.
He said the UFCW has unsuccessfully tried to organize Tim Hortons workers and said unionization will likely only come when labour laws change in Nova Scotia.
“It’s time we drew attention to the low wages and what these independent contractors actually do,” Dobson said. “We’ve had various organizing drives on various Tims locations, and they all do the same game.
“You get support and as soon as you do it, they just move the ‘problem’ people to another location, or cut their hours, and then the organizing drive dries up.
“If we can raise attention to this, maybe the legislation in this province gets changed to similar provinces that are protecting workers like this.”