rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Cineplex hikes ticket prices in pursuit of record profits, blames its low-waged workers

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Image: Sally Field in Norma Rae (1979)

CBC reported that Cineplex raised its ticket prices on Oct. 1. The hike on admission is between $0.22 and $0.51.

The public broadcaster mindlessly repeated the corporation's talking points: nearly 90 per cent of their employees make minimum wage. They quoted one worker in the short story, Sarah Van Lange, who is Cineplex's director of communications and who near certainly is among the company's wealthiest 10 per cent of workers.

They also inserted a paragraph about minimum wage increases in Ontario and Alberta, leading readers believe that the fee increase was caused by the minimum wage.

Global News ran a similar story, but included an internal memo that had been posted to Reddit. The memo shows that the minimum wage talking points were the corporation's. Staff were instructed to reference higher minimum wages if customers complained about the increased fees.

Investigative journalist Leslie Young included other information that shows that Van Lange's talking points are dubious at best and at worst, are lies.

Last year, Cineplex's revenues were record-breaking. They reached $1.4 billion.

Cineplex management's discussion and analysis document for 2016 Q2 show that their revenues decreased by 22 per cent, compared to the previous year's revenues in Q2 alone. But, they don't blame this decrease on wages: "This decrease was due to weaker film product resulting in lower theatre attendance, as the current period faced a difficult comparator, with three of the top five films in the prior period ranking in the top seven all-time in worldwide box office revenues."

If you change the range of the profits considered, from January 1 to June 30, 2016, profits increased by 12.8 per cent, compared to the year previous. The documents do reference higher operating costs, but not low-waged employees. Instead, the costs are related to "emerging businesses as Cineplex continues to execute its diversification strategy."

Salaries and wages comprise a chunk of Cineplex's operating costs, but leases, property and licensing fees paid to film distributors are also significant costs. For example, salaries and wages are considered "other operating costs," a figure that includes many other expenses and reached $232 million in 2016 alone. To put that into perspective, theatre-occupancy expenses were $104 million, film costs were $198 million, of a total operations cost of about $670 million. And, box office and food service revenues combined were $562 million.

Theatre payroll increased by 5.7 per cent in 2016 when compared to the first half of 2015, to be $71 million. During Q2 though, payroll costs decreased by 4.6 per cent.

It's worth noting too, that Cineplex's best quarter tends to be Q4.

Among the standard risks identified in their statements are the talking points in the CBC article:

"Cineplex employs approximately 13,000 people, of whom approximately 89 per cent are hourly workers whose compensation is based on the prevailing provincial minimum wages with incremental adjustments as required to match market conditions. Any increase in these minimum wages will increase employee related costs. Approximately seven per cent of Cineplex’' employees are represented by unions, located primarily in the province of Quebec. Because of the small percentage of employees represented by unions, the impact of labour disruption nationally is low."

This is a great forecast because it demonstrates that Cineplex's profits (or, in the case of 2015 record profits) depend on the corporations paying their employees so little. It also demonstrates why corporations like Cineplex are averse to unions: it's harder to oppress workers with a collective agreement in hand.

Ontario's October increase of $0.15 was set into motion two years ago. It's political that Cineplex has decided to coincide their ticket increase with the provincial minimum wage hike.

Alberta's minimum wage was increased to $12.20 per hour, an increase of one dollar. Just 17 of 162 theatres owned by Cineplex are in Alberta.

There are 20 Cineplex theatres in Quebec, many are unionized with IATSE.

The corporation employs 11,570 people at minimum wage and has so-far in 2016 made a revenue of $717 million. If they're on track to beat 2015's record profits, will Ontario's 15 cent raise, or Alberta's one dollar wage break the bank?

If each of those workers worked full time (highly unlikely) and they all worked 52 weeks a year, and every worker received Ontario’s minimum wage increase of $0.15, it would total $3.1 million. Even if they all received Alberta's one-dollar minimum wage increase, they'd only have to pay $21 million more -- a tiny amount compared to their overall profits.

According to Cineplex's documents, the average customer pays $9.23 per visit. Of Cineplex's $1.4 billion in revenues, $711 million came at the box office. With their "modest" increase in ticket prices, and the sales trend of 2016, they'll probably have no problem posting another year of record profits.

The Fight for $15 campaign's most visible action yet happened to coincide with Alberta and Ontario's minimum wage increases. Thanks to a promise made by the Alberta NDP, the campaign is winnable.

If paying your workers a little better means your record billions drop by a few million, you're probably going to throw a tantrum and blame minimum wage increases on your increased ticket prices.

Because that's how greed works.

No one should make the current minimum wage. Minimum wage is a poverty wage. Ellis Jacob knows this. He makes $1,000,000 as Cineplex's CEO, plus additional compensation that brings his most recent total to about $5.3 million. Annually.

The Fight for $15 is winning and Cineplex is showing what kinds of tactics corporations will employ to try and discredit, obscure and defeat the campaign. But, in the fight for fair compensation and a way out of poverty, I think the only reasonable response to Cineplex is: Bring it.

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Image: Sally Field in Norma Rae (1979)

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.