Organizing lessons from Tim Hortons workers: 'Don't be afraid'

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

A Tim Hortons in Cochrane, Ontario. Image: Jerry Huddleston/Flickr

About 45 Tim Hortons workers in Fort Frances, Ontario, banded together to form a union this past year, joining the United Food and Commercial Workers, one of Canada's largest private sector unions.

The outlet is the only Tim Hortons in the small northern Ontario town of about 8,000 people. 

"Job security was the number one factor why they decided to join UFCW," said Nathalie Vengal, an organizer with the union.

Workers bargained annual wage increases, three days paid bereavement leave as well as seniority rights for scheduling and vacation time. Moreover, both full-time and part-time staff will be entitled to benefits.

Vengal said that prior to unionization, access to benefits was restricted without a clear explanation of eligibility. The collective agreement language removed that ambiguity.

Cross-generational allyship

Many of the workers at the outlet are close to retirement age and sought job security and benefits. 

Vengal said that the older employees found allyship among the younger cohort -- many of them high school and college students -- who wanted to fight for their older counterparts. 

"For [the younger workers] it's a part-time job," she said. "But they cared so much about more senior workers and they said, 'You know, I want to do it for them.'"

"[It shows] working together brings a lot of momentum, it brings a lot of strength, to stand together and bargain," Vengal said. "That's what the whole labour movement should be about, right? Allyship and solidarity."

A quick resolution

The process from the start of the organizing campaign to the certification of the union spanned about a month. Vengal said the employer, a franchisee, was eager to reach a deal. 

Some Ontario Tim Hortons locations drew widespread criticism in 2018 after they cut paid breaks and benefits for workers after the minimum wage went up in January 2018. 

But Vengal said this particular franchisee cared about the workers and had built a relationship with his staff. 

"A lot of the workers have worked for the employer for a long time," she said. "And they have a relationship. And I think he understood the importance of giving workers a voice in their working conditions." 

Fighting against discrimination

The workplace is very diverse, according to Vengal, and the employees were adamant about entrenching anti-discrimination and anti-harassment language in the contract.

"We wanted to make sure that there was no discrimination based on age, ethnic group, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other intersectionality of identity," she said. 

The younger workers in particular wanted to secure such language, and they keenly participated in the bargaining process.

Lessons for other workplaces

Vengal said that in today's climate, "workers now more than ever need to stand together and secure the working conditions through organizing and collective bargaining."

The big lesson is not to be afraid of organizing, she said.

"Organizing is an empowering process for workers -- to take a stand and have a say in their working conditions."

Editor's note, October 8, 2019: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that UFCW is Canada's largest private sector union.

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]

Image: Jerry Huddleston/Flickr

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading 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. 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.


We welcome your comments! 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 and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • 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.


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