90 calls, emails to ‘minimum wage bully’ line: ODLC

The President of the Ottawa and District Labour Council says the phone line and inbox have been lighting up since announcing a tip line for “minimum wage bullies.”

The line was launched Friday and, since then, ODLC President Sean McKenny tells CFRA’s News and Views with Rob Snow that the Council has received 90 calls or emails since then, some about the same business.

“Things like the takeaways of breaks, reduction in hours, incentives that had been provided prior to January first are now being taken away,” McKenny says are some of the common complaints. “They’re concerned there may be other things coming in the future as well.”

There have been reports of some businesses removing paid breaks or changing tip-out policies in the wake of Ontario’s minimum wage jumping from $11.60/hr to $14.00/hr. High-profile cases, like two Tim Hortons franchises run by the children of the company’s billionaire founders cutting paid breaks and cutting back on benefits, have captured headlines nationwide.

Some people have reacted by calling for boycotts for stores that cut back on worker incentives, but McKenny says that’s not his goal.

“There’s no intention here about a boycott at all,” he says. “It’s to provide a mechanism for workers to let somebody know what’s happening at that workplace. Our hope is that we’re able to speak to that workplace. We hope they will, we hope they’ll change their actions.”

McKenny says he’s heard of at least one business in Ottawa that has reversed one of their post-wage-increase policy changes.

But does he call it shaming? No.

“If you do something and you think it’s perfectly legit, you have no problem doing it, great! You should be able to do that,” he says. “You only feel shame if you’ve done something wrong. To play politics on the backs of the workers, which is what this is about, they didn’t do anything wrong. All they’re trying to do is make a wage and put food on the table.”

McKenny adds he understands that costs can mount, especially for small businesses, but taking it out on the workers is not the way to go.

“If you all of the costs in, I understand it’s difficult,” he says, “but let’s not pick on the worker once again and certainly not use the worker as a pawn because you’re upset at the Premier and our provincial government.”

McKenny believes the extra spending money in workers’ pockets, combined with the cut in small business taxes, which also came into effect January 1, will offset the added labour costs.

The corporate income tax rate for small businesses fell from 4.5% to 3.5%. The government has also pledged to remove $1.25 worth of old administrative costs to businesses for every $1.00 of new costs that is added.

Going forward, McKenny says, if employers don’t want to talk with him or refuse to change their stance, he says the Council will use social media to tell consumers that “these are the kinds of steps” that such establishments are taking.

“Shouldn’t we be frequenting those businesses that go above and beyond with their workers? If their workers are happy, everybody is going to win on this,” he says. “What is going to help is when workers are finally paid a fair wage and are treated with respect and dignity.