Demonstrators picket Tim Hortons after cuts to employee benefits

Demonstrators turned out to Tim Hortons locations on Wednesday in an effort to pressure franchises to reverse cuts to employee benefits implemented in response to the province's minimum wage increase.

Some Tim Hortons franchises cut employee benefits following Ontario's minimum wage hike

The Ontario Federation of Labour, which represents some 54 unions across the province, organized rallies in 15 cities and towns. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Demonstrators from various Ontario labour unions turned out to Tim Hortons locations on Wednesday in an effort to pressure franchises to reverse cuts to employee benefits implemented in response to the province's minimum wage increase.

"We expect every business in Ontario to live up to the spirit of the law," said Chris Buckley, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, an umbrella group that represents some 54 unions.

The OFL organized the rallies in solidarity with Tim Hortons workers who have lost a host of benefits and perks this year, after minimum wage in the province increased to $14. 

Public backlash to the move has been swift, with some would-be customers boycotting the iconic coffee shop on social media with actions like #NoTimmysTuesday, in which some Tim Hortons regulars posted photos of purchases from the chain's competition with messages of support for workers.

"We find it very disrespectful, in fact it's vindictive," Buckley said of the clawback to benefits.

Restaurant Brands International, the parent company of Tim Hortons, has said the decision to pass costs onto employees were made by "rogue" franchisees and does not reflect the "values" of the business. Individual franchises told CBC News that they've been forced to cut benefits because head office will not allow an increase in prices. 

Tim Hortons has faced a public relations fiasco in recent days after some franchises decided to cut employee benefits in response to Ontario's minimum wage hike, which took effect on January 1. (CBC)

The Great White North Franchisee Association, which represents half of Canadian Tim Hortons franchisees, said the minimum wage hike and other changes to the province's labour laws will cost the average franchisee $243,889 a year.

The association said it hoped RBI would lower supply costs or raise prices. When it did not, the association said, many franchisees were "left no alternative but to implement cost saving measures in order to survive."

Buckley said that he's personally reached out to RBI chief executive Daniel Schwartz to "give him an opportunity to correct this situation.

"And if he chooses not to, the labour movement will mobilize across this province like this province hasn't seen in a very long time."

A social media movement is encouraging people to boycott Tim Hortons on Tuesdays. (Facebook)

In addition to the demonstrations at nine separate Toronto locations planned throughout the day, rallies are expected in London, Guelph, Ottawa, Peterborough, Windsor, Dundas and Cobourg.

Tanya Ferguson, a union organizer, said she decided to join the demonstrations because since the minimum wage increase, "we've seen all these huge companies that are punishing people at the bottom of the food chain."

Ultimately, labour leaders hope individual franchise owners will pressure head office into forcing changes in stores that have chosen to reduce benefits and perks.

"Head office has the means to ensure that these reprisals against workers are reversed, and we are calling on them to do so immediately," said Pam Frache, Ontario co-ordinator of a campaign for higher minimum wage dubbed Fight for $15 and Fairness.

"And we are not going to stop, actually, until they make this happen. We need to make it right for these employees."

Wednesday's rallies were organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour and attended primarily by union members working in various industries. (Annie Poulin/CBC)

With files from The Canadian Press