Open for Business, But Not For Your Input

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Did you happen to read the town ad on the inside page in the Enterprise Bulletin this weekend? February 6, top of page D7? I’m betting you didn’t because no one I’ve spoken to seems to have read it. And since you can’t find the ad on the EB’s website, you won’t have read it online, either.

But you should because it likely affects you and possibly in a big way.  It may change your life and not in a positive manner.

It’s on the town’s website, buried under a user-unfriendly URL here: www.collingwood.ca/node/11875.

It looks innocuous enough at the start:

In accordance with the Retail Business Holidays Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. R.30, as amended, and Ontario Regulation 711/91 – Tourism Criteria, the Town of Collingwood hereby gives notice of a Public Meeting and intent to pass a by-law to incorporate proposed changes to the Retail Business Holiday Exemption By-law, during its regular meeting of Council to be held Monday, March 2, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers, 97 Hurontario Street, Collingwood.

But read a little further and you’ll find these two bullet points:

  • Allowing retail business establishments to be open to the public Family Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, in addition to the other exemptions provided in the by-law.
  • Review of application from the Business Improvement Area and the Chamber of Commerce to incorporate a town-wide exemption encompassing all retail business in Collingwood.

That’s right: council intends to pass a bylaw to permit retail stores to open on statutory holidays – two of them among the most important religious holidays of the year for Christians. And they didn’t warn anyone this was coming. But read on, there’s more.

Open for business, not for your input

Bullet two is interesting. It suggests the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown BIA have applied for this change. But my sources say the Chamber was informed of it only the day after the ad was placed in the paper – and the Chamber board has not approved any such an application. I’ve heard someone from the clerk’s office will be addressing the Chamber board about the proposal this week – the week after the notice was published in the paper.

And the BIA doesn’t have its new board yet – it won’t have one until at least the end of the month because the election is on right now.  And by my reckoning, there won’t even be an opportunity for the new board to meet to discuss an issue that significantly affects every retail operation in the downtown, and decide on a collective response before the public meeting on March 2 and the closure of comments (see below).

My sources also tell me the BIA was also not informed about the “application” until after the notice had been placed in the newspaper.

And the intent is to pass the bylaw on March 2 – based on what the draft bylaw says – not to get any additional public input, not to do research or to investigate the impact of such a law in other communities. So basically, it’s a done deal.

How open and transparent is that?

And why the rush to get it passed in less than a month?

This issue wasn’t raised at full council meeting in any open session I’ve seen – in fact I asked one councillor about it and he confessed he knew nothing about it before he saw the notice in the paper.

So who is behind this? I don’t know, but it wasn’t those two organizations. It’s clearly been in the works for at least a few weeks, since there’s a draft bylaw attached to the town’s web page (here). You should ask: whose initiative is this and how did it get snuck past the public to the bylaw stage?

And boy, is that draft bylaw interesting. It lists the following current holidays as being available for businesses to open, not just the ones in the notice:

  1. Family Day
  2. Good Friday
  3. Easter Sunday
  4. Victoria Day
  5. Canada Day
  6. Labour Day
  7. Thanksgiving Day
  8. Boxing Day
  9. any new public holiday declared by proclamation of the Lieutenant Governor to be a holiday for the purposes of the Retail Business Holidays Act after the enactment of this by-law

Basically that’s every stat holiday except Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Does this concern you? If you work in retail or the hospitality sector in this town, it should. Your life will be altered and you won’t have a say in it.

Sure, if you’re an employee, you will get either extra pay* or another day or time off in lieu of the stat holiday, but it makes it difficult for people who work multiple jobs (as many local people do), or who have families and may want to have the day together, or who may have other obligations like church. Imagine trying to find a babysitter or daycare on the holiday everyone else is getting off! Imagine your family having Thanksgiving dinner while you stock shelves or run a cash register station.

And guess what? Town hall is closed on those holidays! It’s not like the town staff will be sharing your pain. But, hey – they’ll be able to shop on those days!

Look down at the bottom of the notice and you’ll read another chilling bit. It says:

Preliminary discussions of the proposed by-law will also be open to the public at the Corporate Services Standing Committee meeting scheduled for February 9, 2015 in the Council Chambers, 97 Hurontario Street.

So the ad was published on Friday, Feb. 6 (and possibly not even delivered until the following day) yet this council was discussing the change Monday, the next business day – before any public input had been received, without a chance to get any comments from, say the local ministerial association, on how they and their congregations feel about this proposed change. Nor any comments from local unions about how this might affect local workers. Or even from local families who may be affected by the change.

Yet, according to the EB’s coverage – on Monday night, the council committee recommended the bylaw be approved without any public input!

How very open and transparent…. did anyone get the opportunity to make a presentation to council before they started discussing this proposal? None that I have heard of. It was all done too quickly and too quietly for the public to respond properly – the word subterfuge comes to mind.

The notice says you can comment, but the window for comment is only 24 days from the time the ad was published, and (if you’re reading this post the day I published it) five days of that brief period have already elapsed, leaving less than three weeks:

Any person wishing to make representation with respect to the proposed by-law may do so at the Public Meeting or by submitting comments in writing to the undersigned by no later than 12:00pm on Monday, March 2, 2015. The draft by-law is attached below and also available by contacting the Clerk’s Department.

This is backwards and thee process is hostile to the community. Done properly, it should have STARTED with a public meeting in which the advocates and opponents got a chance to speak to the whole community and council. Not ended with one. Whoever proposed this idea should have to come forward to explain themselves in public before the bylaw was drafted, not hide behind a seldom-read notice on the inside back page of the newspaper.

Where was the staff report and the study that showed this was not only viable but something the public wanted? Nothing was presented, nothing made public to justify this bylaw.

Now, I’m not a religious person, but I generally respect those who are, and I expect this will cause great conflict with their beliefs and their religious activities. It imposes a secularism on them for commercial reasons  that is entirely inappropriate.

I ran a successful retail operation in town for 11 years, so I know how problematic staffing can be for a small business, especially around vacations and holidays. This will certainly make it more difficult for owners and managers.

For employees, it will be a worse burden. I also know from experience as an employee how some less-than-scrupulous employers can intimidate or bully workers into staffing holiday shifts.

Forcing employees to work on holidays the rest of the public get off is also telling customers you don’t value your employees. Their lives, their families, their problems mean less to you than your potential profits. That’s a bad message to send to anyone.

In the US, there have been recent boycotts against stores open on Thanksgiving, which further hurts business and blackens reputations.

And I have to ask: do we NEED to have more shopping days? Are we so desperate to spend our money (or to receive it) that we need to go into a box store or some downtown shop on Good Friday? Or Thanksgiving? Do we need our small town to be like a mall rather than a community? Do we all really need to go a little deeper in debt**

A story on Think Progress last fall, titled “Opening On Thanksgiving Backfires For Retail Stores,” noted that American retaillers weren’t finding sales increased with additional holiday shopping, but rather that the extra day open actually took away from other big sales days:

“People are changing their behavior,” said Bill Martin, ShopperTrak’s co-founder. “We’ve seen this for two years in a row now. Stores opening on Thanksgiving are simply eroding sales from Black Friday.”

And in late 2012, the Harvard Business Review published an article titled, “When You Force Employees to Work on Holidays, Everyone Suffers,” that added:

Retailers get a temporary sales lift from offering deep discounts. But opening stores on a holiday often means they pay employees time and a half. And it’s unlikely that opening stores earlier makes people spend more for holiday shopping; they just spend more that day and less on other days.
One group is definitely worse off: retail employees. Customers can pass on Gray Thursday, but employees are stuck. They often have to show up several hours before opening. And they don’t like it! Casey St. Clair, a Target employee, was so upset that she set up a petition on change.org to “save Thanksgiving” and go back to Friday morning opening. By midday today more than 370,000 people had signed it.

It concludes:

Everyone suffers. Companies leave a lot of money on the table. Customers get bad service and higher prices dues to inefficiencies. The employees suffer most. But retail employees are a huge segment of our society, so our society suffers as well.

If retaillers feel they need more business time, then open Sunday. And if you’re already open Sunday, then open longer hours during the week (try Thursday or Friday until 8 or 9). Don’t put employees into the uncomfortable position of having to cancel events with family or friends on the rare days of the year they can actually plan to get  together in order to work in your store.

It’s a bad process and a worse idea. How could council allow this to happen? Where, oh where is the promised accountability?

If you’re concerned about this proposal, call your council rep and complain (numbers and email are here). Or better yet, call the clerk’s office and ask to be put on the agenda for March 2 so you can tell everyone at the table, as well as the media, how you feel about this.

(NB. Whether you think opening on these holidays is good or bad, the process for the decision making was secretive and simply wrong and should have involved the public from the very start).

~~~~~
* The holiday pay is based on this arcane formula:

The amount of public holiday pay to which an employee is entitled is all of the regular wages earned by the employee in the four work weeks before the work week with the public holiday plus all of the vacation pay payable to the employee with respect to the four work weeks before the work week with the public holiday, divided by 20.

For part-time employees, it’s even more complex:

Full- and part-time employees in the province of Ontario earn stat pay if the following requirements are met:

    • You must have worked both the scheduled shift immediately before the holiday and the scheduled shift immediately after the holiday.

/You must report to work on the holiday, if required, unless there is reasonable cause not to work.

If you are entitled to stat pay and you do not work the stat holiday, payment is determined in one of two ways:

    • If you earn a fixed hourly or daily wage, you are paid your regular wage for a normal day’s work.
    • If your wages vary, you are paid 5% of the wages earned, combined with vacation pay paid, in the 4 work weeks preceding the week of the holiday.

** The Public Holidays Act already provides an exemption for many businesses to open on a holiday, including:

(i) foodstuffs,
(ii) tobacco or articles required for the use of tobacco,
(iii) antiques, or
(iv) handicrafts,
or any combination of them, or where the principal business is the sale of goods referred to in subclauses (i) to (iv), or any of them, by retail and no other goods are available for sale except as sundries; and
(b) the number of persons engaged in the service of the public in the establishment does not at any time exceed three; and
(c) the total area used for serving the public or for selling or displaying to the public in the establishment is less than 2,400 square feet.

Do we REALLY need more exemptions? Someone in town hall or on council thinks so, and I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts it isn’t someone who works in retail!

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4 Replies to “Open for Business, But Not For Your Input”

  1. There is a good piece on Ted, from 2014 about why we sometimes need to slow down, to get away from work – and why holiday time (not necessarily vacation time) is important:

    http://ideas.ted.com/why-we-need-a-secular-sabbath/

    The author, Pico Iyer, writes:

    …it’s precisely those who are busiest, I wanted to tell her, who most need to give themselves a break. Stress is contagious, studies have found. If only the poor, overburdened mother could ask her husband — or her mother or a friend — to look after her kids for thirty minutes a day, I’m sure she’d have much more freshness and delight to share with her children when she came back, and with her business.

    The piece also includes this great story:

    One day Mahatma Gandhi was said to have woken up and told those around him, “This is going to be a very busy day. I won’t be able to meditate for an hour.” His friends were taken aback at this rare break from his discipline. “I’ll have to meditate for two,” he spelled out.

  2. A letter from the clerk’s office was sent yesterday to the Chamber of Commerce admitting this application was not theirs:

    In no way did the Town intend to cause any disruption to the Chamber or its membership. The notice of the Public Meeting scheduled for March 2,2015 has been amended to properly reflect the Town’s intent of the public meeting and proposed changes to the by-law. The notice now confirms application has not been made by the Business Improvement Area and Chamber of Commerce for a town-wide exemption, and that we are strictly seeking input from businesses and residents of Collingwood to determine their interest in this opportunity.
    The staff report going forward to Council on March 2 will be for information purposes only, to provide context to the public meeting. Comments submitted to the Clerk’s Department and received from the public meeting will then be reviewed and a recommendation will be provided to Council at a later date based on the comments provided. Comments with respect to the position of the Chamber will be removed as discussed. In order to allow the public additional opportunity to review the proposed by-law and staff to make an informed recommendation to Council, the enactment of the proposed by-law will not meet the deadlines for it to take effect this year’s Easter weekend.

  3. My sources also tell me the outgoing BIA board approved holding a discussion of holiday opening, NOT applying for these exemptions. So this is NOT an application by the BIA or Chamber… why did council recommend passing it?

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