Outrage brews over pub signs protesting minimum wage hike

A handful of people stood outside the Ale House bar in London, Ont. on Monday to protest the owner's attitude toward the recently announced increases coming to minimum wage in Ontario.

Owner of Ale House sparked debate after posting an anti-increase sign earlier this month

A sign at Monday's protest against the Ale House in London, Ont. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

A handful of people stood outside the Ale House bar in London on Monday to protest the owner's attitude towards the recently announced minimum wage increases coming to Ontario.

The Ale House has been posting warnings to customers on a front-facing sign at its downtown location about potential price increases as they adjust to a minimum wage bump. 

One group, London Common Front, has been leading the charge to fight back against the bar owner's messaging. 

"We figure since he's sort of become a rallying point for business owners to fight this locally, it's natural he would be a focus for us to express the opposite opinion," said Anthony Verberckmoes, one of the group's organizers.

He called the signs "deplorable" and stood at a table handing out 'Fighting for $15' pamphlets to passersby. 

The Ontario government announced last month the provincial minimum wage will increase to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, 2018, and then to $15 the following January. 

Scare Tactic

Verberckmoes said Ale House owner Alex Petro has been "trying to scare people into thinking everything's going to be priced out of control and jobs would be lost and chaos would ensue."

He said the goal of Monday's protest was to spread awareness and draw attention to the benefits of an increased minimum wage. 

Anthony Verberckmoes was one of the organisers of a protest beside the Ale House in London on Monday. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"If you're out working two to three jobs making next to nothing and it all doesn't add up, and then you hear this guy complaining about how that's going to cause chaos in the world — I just don't by that," Verberckmoes said. 

He told CBC News he had not talked with the bar's owner before the protest over signs that he said sparked "outrage."

"If he wants to talk, I would talk with him I suppose, but I don't feel like that's the best use of my time," Verberckmoes said. 

For me, it's time for civil disobedience- Alex Petro , Owner of the Ale House

He said it's the owner's fault if a business closes because they can't afford to pay higher wages.

"That's a law of capitalism — that's not a law I'm pushing on them. I just think the people on the bottom should get a bigger slice of the pie," said Verberckmoes. "If they can't work that out, I mean, I can't figure out all their problems for them."

Layoffs Looming

Petro is aware his signs have stirred up emotions in some of the people who've seen them. 

"I've had a lot of positive feedback from business owners and we've had a lot of negative as well," said Petro. "People calling me a capitalist pig, threats on my wife, my kids, my family. Other than that, it's OK."

Petro's main concerns are the ripple effect he said the minimum wage will have on his customers.

"I'm probably looking at a 25 per cent reduction in staff come January with the combination of increasing prices," said Petro, who employs 20 people at the bar.

He said the new minimum wage increases will cost him $7,000 a month next year. 

"For me, it's time for civil disobedience," said Petro, suggesting that businesses band together and refuse to pay the increased rate. 

Business impacts

"I got to be honest with you, if anything, my business has gone up," he said. "I'm not going to say it's gone up a lot but we are seeing customers that haven't come in for a while just because of what's going on."

Petro said raising the minimum wage would mean offering a comparable raise to other employees that he says have earned their higher salary based on experience or skill set. 

Ale House owner Alex Petro said the increases in minimum wage are happening on too fast a timeline for independent businesses. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"We're not against a living wage," said Petro. "They call me a capitalist pig. I don't get it. I drive a 15-year-old beater. I live modestly, I work 14 hours a day. I don't make a lot of money. The margins are so small in this business and they're shrinking by the day."

Petro said he would be open to sitting down with protestors like Verberckmoes to explain the impacts on his business.