Controversial bar sign over minimum wages sparks community outrage

Londoners are fighting back after a downtown bar owner posted a sign slashing the provincial government’s plan to increase wages.

A community group is set to protest outside a London bar that raised eyebrows over its signage

Alex Petro, owner of the Ale House, which posted a controversial sign criticising the provincial government's plan to increase the minimum wage.

Londoners are fighting back after a downtown bar owner posted a sign attacking the provincial government's plan to increase Ontario's minimum wage. 

"We want to express our freedom of speech the same way the (owner) did," said Mike Roy, co-organizer of a $15 and Fairness, a protest set for Monday outside the Ale House.

The Dundas Street bar was caught in a social media frenzy two weeks ago after it erected a sign warning customers about potential price increases and layoffs.

The sign was posted a day after the Ontario Liberal government announced a plan to increase the provincial minimum wage from $11.40 to $15 an hour by January 2019.

Ale House owner Alex Petro said his new sign has already created some discussion inside of his bar in downtown London. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

A minimum wage employee himself, Roy says he doesn't earn enough to make a living.

"I would love to be able to eat steak once a month rather than macaroni and cheese every day and I would love to be able to go to the movies," said Roy. "Right now, I can't afford that stuff and a couple of extra bucks an hour will really help a lot."

However, Ahmed Disi, who's living on a minimum wage, say's an increase would ruin small businesses thriving in the food industry.

"To see my boss struggling and having to deal with that much of an increase, it's hard to see that," he said. "Small businesses are going to be pushed to use lower quality food because they're not going to be able to afford the usual expensive food."

Ontario is the second province, after Alberta, to a pass a $15 hourly wage promise this year. The increase would be rolled out over the next 18 months, followed by annual inflation increases.

However, with an intervening provincial election slated for next year, Jim Reid, president of Unifor Local 27, isn't taking a deep breath just yet.

"This is an attempt and we'll see what the final draft is once it's passed legislation, but we'll see how successful that effort has been by the Liberals," he said.

Several union representatives will be joining Roy at the front lines next week hoping to educate Londoners on the importance of job security. A long-timer at the bar famous for craft beer and live music, Reid said he won't be back for a cold one anytime soon.

"You want to appeal to customers with all political stripes (and) you don't want to alienate a certain group of people," said Reid of the decision to post the sign, which has since been taken down. "It's public speech and that needs to be protected and respected but it's also something that … maybe is meant to provoke comment or discussion."

The Ale House on Dundas Street posted a controversial sign criticising the provincial government's plan to increase the minimum wage. Londoners are fighting back.

And that's exactly what Alex Petro, owner of the Ale House, intended.

"A $20 burger and $10 beer may be an exaggeration to a certain degree but it was basically put there to get people's attention," said Petro. "I'm basically letting people know that prices are going to go up."

Although Petro says his family received death threats, he's not afraid to face the backlash.

"I'm sick and tired of what's going on in my province and I think it's time for us to voice our opinion," he said, frustrated over increased costs forcing him to find ways to cut costs to keep his staff.

Petro employs up to 20 people, 70 per cent of which are minimum-wage employees, with the rest earning slightly higher.

Petro says he could face added monthly costs of up to $7,000 if minimum wages increase. He told CBC he is considering hiring a younger and cheaper crew.

"People are barking up the wrong tree with [me] because I will fight back," he said.

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