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Tim Hortons coffee shop in downtown Toronto, June 29, 2016.The Canadian Press

A group of discontented Tim Hortons franchisees is vowing to keep fighting the restaurant chain’s parent company on key issues after the abrupt termination of the group leader’s licence.

The board of directors of the Great White North Franchisee Association (GWNFA), which was formed last year by some Tim Hortons franchisees to voice their grievances, said in a Sept. 19 letter to its members that it is “working on your behalf to ensure the association members’ interests are being protected.

“We are as committed as ever to search for solutions on the issues that franchisees want us to resolve,” said a copy reviewed by The Globe and Mail – although GWNFA members and advisers refused to provide The Globe with the letter.

“We’re hopeful about turning a new page in our history and opening a meaningful dialogue with all relevant stakeholders who are part of the Tim Hortons system, including RBI,” the letter continued, referring to parent Restaurant Brands International Inc.

It signals that the tussle between RBI and the dissident franchisee group continues – although with a more conciliatory tone – amid questions about the effectiveness of the GWNFA after the ouster of association co-founder and former president David Hughes.

RBI locked him out from his four Alberta restaurants and terminated his licences on the Labour Day weekend, saying he had violated his agreement by sharing confidential company information with the media. At the time, he called it “pure intimidation,” but just more than a week later he came to an undisclosed settlement with RBI.

He was the second high-profile association member to be bought out by the company. About a month earlier, RBI came to a settlement for an undisclosed amount with Mark Kuziora, a Tim Hortons franchisee in Toronto who had signed his name to one of two association lawsuits in Canada against the company seeking class-action status. Mr. Kuziora’s claim alleged RBI was improperly using franchisee advertising funds. RBI denies the claim.

RBI has refused to acknowledge GWNFA, communicating only with the franchisee-elected advisory board, which the association feels is too close to management.

RBI spokeswoman Jane Almeida said on Monday the advisory board has existed since 1983 “and it is the well-established group that raises issues that are important to all restaurant owners." She said the board represents franchisee views and resolves issues on their behalf, including those recently cited. Of the 19 board members, 25 per cent are elected annually, with each member serving for four years.

She said the company often talks with individual restaurant owners who raise issues, including recent discussions about how to work constructively with the company and the advisory board.

In their latest letter, the GWNFA directors said they would hold a “strategic meeting” this week to “confirm what they want from RBI” and would share their thoughts with members shortly.

The letter outlined a few of the issues that need to be resolved and remain a priority, including pricing of supplies the franchisees must buy from the company, ranging from coffee to cups. Some restaurant owners say RBI is overcharging them for some items.

As well, the franchisees are seeking “increased transparency on terminations” and a “fair process” for renewed franchise agreements, the letter said. The association, which says it represents more than half of franchisees, has said they receive a declining return from RBI when terminating their leases.

As for the two outstanding lawsuits seeking class-action status, the letter suggested the company, much as it would like to, can’t just get the GWNFA to drop the lawsuits.

“Settling the lawsuits is important,” the letter said, adding any agreement with RBI “requires that a judge approves the settlement.” It said the judge in the case “must be convinced that the resolution of our claims is fair and reasonable for class members."

The association also says it wants to be sure that how it communicates with franchisees will “stay out of the media.”

It is the second letter from the GWNFA since Mr. Hughes’s licence was terminated. In the first letter, dated Sept. 11 and obtained by The Globe, the group confirmed that he had resigned from the association. “His reasons for stepping down are many. As always, he put the GWNFA first. He did not want his situation to affect the ability of the GWNFA to represent members and nonmemebers. He believes as strongly as ever on the need for an association if franchisees want their voices heard.”

In its latest letter, the association said it had elected franchisee Mark Walker as its president to replace Mr. Hughes and that two other experienced restaurant owners, one from Manitoba and one from Quebec, had recently joined the board.

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