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Tim Hortons franchise owners tell workers to blame Wynne for benefit cuts and to 'not vote Liberal'

Tim Hortons franchise owners tell workers to blame Wynne for benefit cuts and to 'not vote Liberal'

A staff memo written by a couple of Tim Hortons franchise owners in Whitby, Ont., blames cuts to employee benefits on the Ontario government and its minimum wage hike.

The notice also suggests employees contact Premier Kathleen Wynne if they have concerns about the changes — and let her know she doesn't have their support. 

"I encourage you to let her know how your workplace will change as a result of her new [minimum wage] law and that you will not vote Liberal in the coming Ontario election in June 2018," says the notice, which lists Susan and Jason Holman as the authors.

The Holmans own three Tim Hortons locations northeast of Toronto, including a pair in Whitby and one in nearby Ajax, said an employee who works at one of the locations.

The employee, who asked that CBC News not publish their name or workplace location for fear of repercussions, said the notice was posted at work in November — just weeks before the minimum wage hike to $14 an hour from $11.60 took effect on Jan. 1.

"The political part of the note infuriated me," the worker said in an email.

"I can not say for certain that it has in fact convinced [employees] to blame Wynne, or turned them away from [the] Liberals, but that's certainly the intent of the letter, and I'm sure seeds have definitely been planted because of it."

The Holmans cut employee perks such as paid breaks and free hot drinks on the job, and reduced health benefit coverage, the employee said.

Workers at nearly a dozen Tim Hortons outlets across Ontario have told CBC News their owners have made similar cutbacks to offset the costs of the minimum wage hike. 

In the notice, the Holmans say workplace changes were necessary "to stay in business," but the employee claims it's unfair for them to blame the Ontario government for the cuts.

"The only person to blame for these changes is the one who made them … and the one who doesn't think we are deserving of this pay wage," said the worker, who claims before the rollbacks, the Tim Hortons location was a good place to work.

The individual also said the owners have informed employees the changes may only be temporary, depending on how the situation plays out.

"I just hope things will get back to the way they were. With the loss of benefits, this pay raise doesn't really put me (and everyone else) any better off."

'No comment' from owner

CBC News reached franchise owner Jason Holman by phone at a Tim Hortons in Whitby.

He declined to comment on the notice or the employee benefit cuts, saying he isn't "media savvy" and that CBC News should contact head office.

"I don't want to be rude because I'm not a rude individual. I know you're just trying to do your job, but there's no comment," he said. "You're going to have to accept that."

CBC News pointed out that the notice encouraging workers to blame the Liberal government had already been posted on social media, and was being widely shared.

"I don't care," he said. 

CBC News also contacted Tim Hortons head office and the Great White North Franchisee Association, which says it represents more than half of Tim Hortons franchise owners. Both declined to comment.

However, Premier Wynne weighed in Friday on the issue, tweeting, "I'm happy to talk to any business owner about the minimum wage but taking it out on employees is not fair and not acceptable."

People are also weighing in on the employee notice which is making the rounds on social media. 

Tiffany Balducci, second vice-president of the Durham Labour Region Council, obtained a copy from a tipster, and another labour group posted it on Facebook.

"I was surprised to see that an employer would be telling their employees how they should be voting and bringing politics into the workplace," Balducci said. 

She says it's unfair to tell workers that if they don't like the benefit cuts at their workplace, they should contact the premier.

"It shouldn't be on the lowest-paid workers to just try to sort this out."

Balducci says her organization had previously heard reports about the Holmans cutting employee benefits, which is why it helped organize a protest at a Whitby location owned by the couple last Saturday. 

"Not only to cut [paid] breaks and take things away from your workers, but to blame it on the government?" said Balducci. "Maybe [franchise owners] should be talking to their parent company."

Tim Hortons has been in the spotlight since early January, when CBC News first revealed some franchise owners in Ontario were clawing back employee benefits.

At the time, the Great White North Franchisee Associationdefended the rollbacks, stating that head office won't let franchise owners offset the minimum wage hike in other ways, such as by raising prices.

Tim Hortons — which is owned by multinational Restaurant Brands International (RBI) — said individual franchise owners are responsible for handling all employment matters.

It also blamed the recent controversy over benefit rollbacks on a "rogue group" of franchise owners who "do not reflect the values of our brand."

Today, labour activists are holding rallies at more than 40 Tim Hortons across the country to send a message to RBI that it needs to take action to guarantee that its employees are treated fairly.