Unionized employees of a downtown Tim Hortons picketed at Portage and Main Friday morning after the franchise owner locked them out over a wage increase roughly equivalent to the price of a Timbit.
"We really aren’t asking for much," said Ben Garus, a baker who started working at the Lombard Avenue location in August.
The 15 workers, who are represented by the Workers United Canada Council, sought a 30-cent per hour increase in the most recent round of collective bargaining. The franchise owner, JP Shearer, offered 20 cents, which would bring the wage to $11.95/hr.
The union rejected the offer and asked to continue negotiating. In response, the owner gave it two weeks' notice before locking the employees out and bringing in new workers, union representative Andy Spence said.
Spence said the franchisee runs six Tim Hortons locations in Winnipeg, but only the shops at Lombard Avenue and Graham Avenue are unionized.
When the offer for a 20-cent an hour raise was made to the unionized employees on Graham, they agreed. But when the Lombard shop held a strike vote in December, 95 per cent of its members agreed to take action.
The union was certified in 2017, and the first collective agreement included a 30-cent raise, boosting hourly wages from $11.15. Employees are now asking Shearer to match it and to move toward a living wage.
A "living wage" is defined by Living Wage Canada — an advocacy organization — as something separate from a minimum wage, which is the lower limit all employees must receive by law. Minimum wage hardly keeps pace with the rising costs of living, advocates say, leaving employees to make difficult spending decisions and unable to improve their financial situations.
The living wage is one based on what earners need to fully address the costs of living in a specific community.
In its 2017 report for Manitoba, Living Wage Canada calculated the amount needed for a family of four, with two parents working full-time, to cover those costs in Winnipeg was $14.54/hr.
Manitoba's consumer price index — which measures the fluctuation in the average cost of a set basket of goods and services — has steadily risen since the last Tim Hortons union wage agreement. In October 2017, the CPI was 131.4, but in 2019, it was 138, representing a five per cent jump. (A raise to $12.05 from $11.75 would amount to an increase of just over 2.5 per cent over the same approximate period.)
Cherry Garcia, 36, who has worked at the Lombard location for seven years, said the extra 10 cents/hr would go a long way in helping her support her daughter. "It will add up," she said.
Since unionizing, the Lombard staff have gained some rights, including three days of paid bereavement leave and an increase in allowance for safety footwear. But the wage increase would have the most direct benefit on employees at the busy downtown shop, Spence said.
"It’s not a big ask," he said. "These are low-wage workers who should be treated with some respect. Some of them have been working here for nearly a decade, and they deserve better treatment."
Inside the underground plaza, the restaurant's new employees tended to the morning coffee-break rush, while the manager refused comment.
The franchise owner didn't respond to an interview request.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Friday, January 3, 2020 at 2:53 PM CST: Updated.
3:01 PM: tweaked headline