The children of the Tim Hortons coffee chain founders cutting paid breaks and staff benefits for employees after a minimum wage hike "really flies in the face of fairness," Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told CBC News on Thursday.
"When … I read about how this man is treating his employees and responding to the rise in minimum wage, I was pretty upset about it," the premier said.
'I think it's the act of a bully. And if Mr. Joyce Jr. wants to pick a fight, pick that fight with me.' - Premier Kathleen Wynne
The premier was speaking to CBC News after a report Wednesday that the owners of a Tim Hortons franchise in Cobourg, Ont., were asking all staff members to sign a letter indicating that they agreed to a series of compensation changes, including eliminating paid breaks and asking them to pay the majority of costs associated with benefits.
The franchise owners are the scions of two families who founded the chain more than 50 years ago, Ron Joyce Jr. and his wife Jeri-Lynn Horton-Joyce. The former is the son of Ron Joyce, who co-founded the chain in 1964. The latter is the daughter of Tim Horton himself.
They are married to each other.
The story has become a flashpoint in the ongoing debate about minimum wage hikes. On Jan. 1, Wynne's Liberal government implemented new rules mandating a minimum wage of $14 an hour. That's a $2.40 raise from last year's level.
Critics have suggested that actions such as those of the franchise owners are to be expected in the face of suddenly increased costs. But Wynne defended the laws, and singled out Joyce Jr. for trying to take unfair advantage.
"I think that asking working people to sign a pledge agreeing to unpaid breaks or agreeing to less pay than the actual hours that they're working," Wynne said. "I mean, that's not fair, but it's also not decent."
"To be blunt," Wynne said, "I think it's the act of a bully. And if Mr. Joyce Jr. wants to pick a fight, pick that fight with me and not the people who are working at the service window of the stores."
The owners of the chain, TSX-listed Restaurant Brands International, told CBC News in a statement that franchisee owners, not the company, are responsible for all staffing matters, including wages and benefits.
CBC News has made repeated requests for comment from Joyce and Horton-Joyce in recent days, but none have been returned.
Chain disappoints franchisees
The two are members of a group called the Great White North Franchisee Association, which represents Canadian franchise owners who have been squabbling with their corporate parents over recent changes, including cost increases and other issues.
In a statement Thursday, the group said it has been disappointed with the corporate parent's lack of support for franchisees in the wake of added costs, which include not just higher wages but also CPP and EI premiums, along with higher statutory holiday pay, sick leave pay and vacation pay.
The group had hoped that Restaurant Brands "would lend support to the franchisees in the chain by lowering food and paper costs, reducing couponing and raising menu board prices to help offset these significant increased costs at store level."
"While other competitors have received concessions from their franchisors, unfortunately our chain has not. Many of our store owners are left no alternative but to implement cost-saving measures in order to survive," the group said.
Directed to avoid media
They also say that franchisees are being told not to talk to the media about issues surrounding wage increases.
"Restaurant Brands International," a spokesperson with the group told CBC News, "have made it very clear in telephone calls to all of the franchises across the country that no one is to speak to the media, and there will be repercussions if they do."
The couple "have made it clear to me that because of RBI's statements in the past that they do not want to put themselves in jeopardy by speaking with the media."
For Wynne's part, the premier says the story hasn't changed her views on the minimum wage debate, and she says she will continue to fight "for a province where everyone can get ahead."
"Tim Hortons is a really important part of daily life of millions of Canadian families," Wynne said. "But so is having a decent living wage."