Loblaw Cos. Ltd. is catching heat from advocacy group Leadnow after disclosing the company could incur $190-million in additional labour expenses in 2018 as a result of minimum-wage increases in Ontario and Alberta.
Loblaw chief executive Galen Weston disclosed the possible costs to the company's bottom line during a recent earnings call with analysts that eventually led to backlash on social media.
Leadnow's petition page accuses Mr. Weston of trying to "sabotage" the Ontario government's plan to raise the minimum wage to $15.
"[Loblaw's CEO] complained to investors about the irritating cost of paying its workers a living wage – even though Loblaws doubled its profits last year and Weston took home $5-million," Leadnow's statement says.
The petition has collected around 13,000 signatures. Leadnow was founded in 2010 and is an independent, registered non-profit that has advocacy campaigns aimed at a wide array of issues ranging from pipelines, international trade and climate change.
Mr. Weston, however, maintains that Loblaw does not oppose the wage hikes but is meeting its obligation to make shareholders aware of the impact they would have on the company. He said the commentary on social media has not been representative of the comments he made.
"We made no value judgments. Clearly communicating an unplanned increase in costs to our business is not a campaign to undermine wage rates," Mr. Weston said in a statement. "Our company and I have been long-time supporters of progressive public policies that support a balanced, sustainable and prosperous economy, regardless of politics."
Logan McIntosh, Leadnow's campaigns director, responded to Mr. Weston's statement and said their aim was to prove that public support for the minimum-wage increase is strong, saying it's one of their most successful campaigns in Ontario ever.
"Our interpretation was that he is highlighting this as a risk and a risky move for the economy, but we see this as something that is good for the economy and will ultimately reduce inequality," Ms. McIntosh said. "It's good to hear that he supports progressive public policy. That's all really encouraging and great to hear."
Loblaw owns grocery chains Loblaws and No Frills, as well as drug-store chain Shoppers Drug Mart, and employs almost 200,000 people. After telling shareholders about the coming costs on July 26, the company's share price fell 4 cents to $68.80. However, the company saw a strong first half of 2017. Loblaw's second-quarter profit rose to $358-million from $158-million the year before.