Protesters stand outside a Tim Hortons in Toronto as part of National Day of Action in Support of Tim Hortons workers on Friday, January 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Workers shouldn’t be used as ‘pawns’ in minimum wage fight: Wynne

Comments from Kathleen Wynne after demonstrators rallied outside Tim Hortons locations across Canada

Ontario’s premier is double-doubling down on her criticism of Tim Hortons franchisees who cut worker benefits amid the province’s minimum wage hike, saying a couple that own a trio of coffee shops east of Toronto shouldn’t use employees as pawns to push back against her government’s actions.

The comments from Kathleen Wynne come a day after demonstrators rallied outside Tim Hortons locations across Canada, including in B.C.

Wynne posted a statement on social media Friday that linked to a report about apparent benefits cuts at certain Tim Hortons locations in Whitby, Ont., and Ajax, Ont.

In a letter to employees being circulated on social media, franchisees Jason and Susan Holman tell workers that changes must be made as a result of the new “substantial, mandatory raise” they will be receiving. If the employees take issue with those changes, they should call Wynne, the letter says.

“I encourage you to let her know how your workplace will change as a result of her new law and that you will not vote Liberal in the coming Ontario election in June 2018,” the note says.

Wynne said the situation was “not acceptable.”

“When I said franchise owners should take their fight to me, I didn’t mean they should use their employees as pawns,” Wynne wrote in a post on Twitter. ”I’m happy to talk to any business owner about the minimum wage but taking it out on employees is not fair and not acceptable.”

Jason Holman said he had “absolutely no comment” when reached by phone Friday afternoon at a Whitby Tim Hortons.

Earlier this month, Wynne accused the children of Tim Hortons’ founders, who own a pair of franchises in Cobourg, Ont., of “bullying” their employees by cutting paid breaks and benefits in response to the wage hike. She said if Ron Joyce Jr., whose father co-founded the coffee shop chain, was opposed to the Liberal government’s decision to raise the minimum wage, he should have picked a fight with her, not the workers.

Ontario’s minimum wage rose on Jan. 1 to $14 an hour from $11.60. It will jump to $15 in Jan. 1, 2019.

A spokeswoman for the Great White North Franchisee Association, which represents some Tim Hortons shop owners, said the group had no comment on the latest incident.

Meanwhile, Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said he was struggling to understand why some Tim Hortons franchisees would court “reputational risk” by taking actions that hurt employees.

The minimum wage policy is popular with the majority of Ontario residents and most businesses are implementing it without complaint, he said.

“This whole rearguard action by some individuals seems to be contrary to the wishes of the people of Ontario and contrary to the spirit of the changes in the first place,” he said. “Even the harshest business critic hasn’t said to me that ‘I believe people should work or live in poverty.’”

Flynn said he would still welcome further discussions with small business owners about the policy but said Wynne was right to criticize the franchisees for such actions.

“If they wanted to come in and have a chat as to how they might get through this, we would have been happy to sit down with them,” he said. “They didn’t have to take it out a group of people that are making less than $15 an hour. That just seems cruel.”

Rallies were planned in cities across the country Friday against Tim Hortons franchisees who slash workers’ benefits and breaks in light of Ontario’s minimum wage increase.

Organizers behind the protest campaign, dubbed Fight for $15 and Fairness, have said the demonstrations were not about the franchise owners themselves, but rather to pressure their parent company.

Tim Hortons has said 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 by allowing them to raise prices.

With files from Peter Cameron

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

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