A Tim Hortons location on Portage Avenue has become the iconic coffee chain’s first unionized shop in Manitoba.
Thirty-five employees at 1146 Portage Ave. in Wolseley have voted to join the Workers United Canada Council effective Wednesday, said Rabia Syed, organizing co-ordinator for the WUCC.
Support among the staff was galvanized last winter, after one employee who had worked there for nearly five years was fired for allegedly talking to a union representative.
The union subsequently filed an unfair labour practice against the employer, which was successful. The former employee was reinstated to her job and given $1,500 to cover emotional stress.
According to the WUCC, the Manitoba Labour Board issued a consent order granting a discretionary certification to the union after the franchisee’s management admitted it had engaged in several violations against the workers’ rights to unionize.
Once the franchise owner found out about the union activity, he threatened to close the store down and take away employee benefits, Syed said.
"The workers were afraid of losing their jobs. They are mainly newcomers to Canada," she said.
Syed said workers also complained about management favouring some over others: for example, some well-liked newcomers were reportedly given a higher wage and more hours than veteran employees. Workers who were perceived to work faster were given preferable treatment, too, she said.
"(Management did not) follow seniority," she said.
Kamta Roy Singh, the franchisee who runs the 1146 Portage Ave. location, plus three more Tim Hortons restaurants in town, declined to comment on the situation based on the advice of his lawyer.
The franchisee will soon begin negotiating his first collective agreement with the WUCC, Syed said.
Depending on the interest, Syed said she would like to unionize as many Tim Hortons locations in the province as possible. There are more than 50 of them in Winnipeg alone.
The chain has nearly 3,700 locations across Canada but only a handful are unionized. Three outlets located in a provincially funded Windsor, Ont., hospital gained notoriety in 2012 for losing $265,000 in taxpayers’ money annually because the employees get paid nearly triple what the average coffee server makes.
WUCC represents 10,000 workers across Canada and 150,000 workers across North America. Its members work across a wide variety of industries, including garment and textile, food service, hospitality, social services, manufacturing and distribution.