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To boycott or not to boycott?

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Tim Hortons. Image: Wladyslaw/Wikimedia Commons

On January 1, due to a hard and brilliantly fought campaign by the Fight for $15 and Fairness, workers in Ontario saw the minimum wage increase to $14 per hour, received paid emergency leave days, and more protections. Obviously, some employers' groups have been fighting back, and 20 Tim Hortons franchises have been in the media spotlight for just that.

There has been a debate raging among my friends about whether or not to boycott Tim Hortons. There are many who are boycotting. Here is what Pam Frache, the coordinator of the 15 and Fairness campaign posted:

IMHO, the boycott call is a basic expression of class anger — solidarity—that should be celebrated! “I don’t want to give my [insert “hard-earned”] money to these asshats — who’s with me?!?” As it turns out, a great many! The existence of such solidarity makes other strategies possible. Remember, the fact that #BoycottTimHortons has been trending for 2 days now will make other employers think twice before wading out into this PR disaster. A “Canadian Icon” has been turned upside down in less than 48 hours. And the parent company (Restaurant Brands International) is now in full “we love our staff and we shouldn’t be using them for political purposes” damage control mode. I agree the boycott call ultimately needs to be redirected, but its existence as a proxy for class solidarity has actually been the thing that makes alternatives possible.

On the concerned (not opposed) side, Chris Ramsaroop, a friend who organizes low wage workers, pointed out in a public post: 

"I am concerned about the boycott Tim campaigns that a lot of people seem to be advocating for. Before calling for a boycott check with the workers first who will be most impacted by any form of boycott. Historically boycotts have succeeded only when they had the full support and participation of those that are most impacted. Just saying."

So, should you boycott or not? You decide, but the fight is not only about whether you sip your Timmies, buy from another brand who may be as awful to their workers but it is not in the media yet, or make your coffee at home.  So don't end your engagement there.  Here are four ways you can help:

1) Find and report violations: There are many temp agencies, retailers, grocery store owners, hotels and other corporate interests behind the Ontario Chamber of Commerce corporate campaign against the Fight for $15 and Fairness. Check out the corporate campaign page to find the names of the specific companies and associations (for names, dig into the association members.) If you know people who work for these companies, talk to them about their work. If they have complaints, ask them to call the Workers Action Centre or the Minimum Wage Bully Hotline. Workers at two Tim Hortons franchises in Winnepeg just unionized, perhaps more workers in Ontario will organize if Tim Hortons franchises continue to bully workers.

If you want to learn more and get more tools, the Fight for $15 and Fairness is setting up organizing meetings in Ontario. Check the events on their campaign website for more and get involved. 

2) Organize your friends and family. 2017 taught many of us that thanks to 'alt-fact' misinformation campaigns, we have to build conversations with our friends and family to ensure we are on the same page. Employers in Ontario, and across Canada, have been sharing debunked data to contend that they cannot stay in business if workers rights are improved. The Liberal government has already floated a tax cut for small businesses, and the employers are gearing up thier gloom and doom propaganda. Alberta's economy has not suffered the losses the business community predicted due to the minimum wage increase and Ontario won't either.

Use some of the links I have provided in this article and work with others from $15 and Fairness to help get people close to you talking about this.  This is the most difficult task, and the most important and, as a person who often engages my more conservative family members in debate, I find it easiest to have this conversation if you build a vision together. 

3) Build a vision. According to the 2016 census data, since the financial crisis in 2006 more people are working over 65, the employment rate has fallen and there are far fewer full time jobs available. Here is a great article by Peter Hogarth about the future of the fight for $15 and Fairness. Hogarth gives us tools for an immediate fightback, but ends with a vision. More and more of us, of all ages, are working precarious minimum wage jobs, and we need to build a vision for a society in which people are paid better, have the protection and training they need, to build stronger communities. We don't need better paid CEOs, we need better protections for teachers.

4) Make sure the law is enforced. Ontario has had some good labour laws, and they just got better. There resources dedicated to enforcing the laws have been cut, and employers have been getting away with breaking the law. The Ontario government has promised to hire up to 175 employment standards officers to improve the enforcement of workers' rights. Know your rights and demand that the government enforce them.

Image: Wladyslaw/Wikimedia Commons

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