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A Tim Hortons coffee shop on King St. East, near Yonge St., in Toronto.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says the children of Tim Hortons co-founders are bullying their employees by reducing benefits after the province increased its hourly minimum wage to $14 on Jan. 1.

Employees at two Tim Hortons locations in Cobourg, Ont., learned in a December letter that they would no longer be entitled to paid breaks and a number of other perks, and would need to cover at least half of the cost of their dental and health benefits after the minimum wage increased from $11.60 to $14 at the start of 2018. The two locations are owned by Ron Joyce Jr. and his wife, Jeri Horton-Joyce, who are the respective son and daughter of Ron Joyce and Tim Horton, the co-founders of the iconic Canadian chain.

On Thursday, Ms. Wynne said that she was upset to learn of how the couple was responding to the rise in the minimum wage. "Asking minimum-wage workers to sign a pledge acknowledging that their breaks will now go unpaid or agreeing to only receive eight hours pay for a nine-hour day is not decent and it's not fair," she said. "It is the act of a bully."

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Ms. Wynne's response comes days after the Bank of Canada warned that minimum-wage hikes could cost nearly 60,000 jobs across the country by 2019, despite any benefits workers will receive. Ontario now has the highest minimum wage in Canada and the Premier has faced months of pushback from business leaders after announcing her plan in May to hike the hourly minimum wage to $14 this year and $15 in 2019. Some businesses have warned that they'll need to increase prices and reduce staffing levels owing to the rapid increase, while others have threatened to leave the province.

Ms. Wynne said that if the heirs to Tim Hortons opposed her government's decision to raise the minimum wage, they should have taken it up with her.

"If Mr. Joyce wants to pick a fight, I urge him to pick it with me and not those working the pickup window and service counter of his stores. Tim Hortons is an important part of the daily life of many Canadian families. Paying our workers a decent living wage is also important. I hope Mr. Joyce will choose to reverse his approach," she said.

With a general election expected in June, Ms. Wynne faces a tough fight. The minimum-wage increase was one of the Premier's marquee initiatives over the past year as her Liberal government introduced a large number of labour changes that also increased vacation benefits and sick-leave provisions.

The letter to employees at the stores in Cobourg, which is about 100 kilometres east of Toronto, concluded that the couple could reconsider the cuts. "We apologize for these changes. Once the costs of the future are better known, we may bring back some or all of the benefits we have had to remove," said the letter, which was widely circulated on social media.

Mr. Joyce and Ms. Horton-Joyce did not respond to a request for comment from The Globe and Mail on Thursday. A source close to the family said they are currently on vacation at their home in Florida.

A spokeswoman for the Great White North Franchisee Association (GWNFA), a group created by Tim Hortons franchisees concerned with how the company has been run since its acquisition by Restaurant Brands International in 2014, declined to comment on Ms. Wynne's statement.

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However, the association's board of directors released a statement on Thursday saying moves by Ms. Wynne's government has put its members in a "difficult situation" by implementing the minimum-wage increase.

"It is the goal of GWNFA and its members to mitigate job losses if at all possible, and as a result, franchisees have been forced to take steps to protect their businesses in this new fiscal reality brought on by these substantial labour cost increases," the board said.

Chris Buckley, the president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, said he has yet to hear about any other businesses in Ontario implementing similar cuts to benefits after the minimum-wage increase. He called on local residents to boycott the two stores.

"For a Canadian company like Tim Hortons to be the first company out of the gate to hurt workers because they got a raise, it's absolutely disgusting," he said. "I would encourage people in the Cobourg area to teach these franchise owners a lesson and not use them."

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