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City draws criticism for asking businesses to offer discounts to municipal employees

The city has since changed course and is now offering a gift card draw for its Employee Appreciation Day after local business owners say the original idea was ‘in poor taste’
Thunder Bay City Hall

THUNDER BAY - The city is changing course on a planned employee appreciation day that initially asked for local businesses to provide discounts to municipal employees.

“I think it was a terrible idea for them to ask for discounts from businesses,” said Celine Wood, owner of Crown and Birch. 

“The owners have been digging into their own personal pockets to keep their employees employed and keep their businesses running and keep the lights on, asking them to give more was outrageous.”

A letter from the city obtained by Tbnewswatch was sent to local food and drink establishments asking them to participate in Employee Appreciation Day on June 9.

As a way of participating, owners were asked to provide discounts to municipal employees such as: “a percentage off their bill, buy-one-get-one-free, or another kind of promotion.”  

“In return, your business will be promoted on the discount card we will provide to our employees for the event,” the letter reads. “On June 9, City of Thunder Bay employees will show their discount card at your establishment to claim their discount. Our hope is that this will drive traffic to your business and provide you with the opportunity to expand your customer base.”

The letter drew heavy criticism from business owners on social media, who expressed frustration over requests to offer discounts after struggling with restrictions, closures, and reduced business throughout the pandemic.

“The employees deserve to get recognized, but that is not the responsibility of barely solvent restaurant businesses that have been decimated by COVID-19 regulations,” wrote Darren Fisk on Facebook.

“I was sickened and I was saddened by it,” Wood added. “I was quite upset by it because we have been closed for eight of the last 14 months. Every single business owner in our city and across the province is suffering because of the lockdown and I just thought it was really in poor taste for the city to ask restaurant owners to offer a discount for their employees.”

Coun. Shelby Ch’ng said as a business owner she has received similar solicitations from organizations, which she said are common.

“I get solicitations, I make a choice, and I choose whether or not to participate,” she said. “There are people and businesses who want to participate in this and who have contacted the city and are happy with it.”

Ch’ng added that she does understand the frustration expressed by some business owners and the struggles they have faced.

“My business is closing because of the pandemic and the lockdown,” she said. “All feelings are valid and I just want the people to know that we do appreciate the city employees and we also appreciate where our members are in the community in terms of these types of asks.”

According to Ch’ng, morale among city employees is at an all time low, as well as across all organizations in the city.

“I don’t think the city did anything wrong with trying to engage,” she said. “There are businesses who want to participate and look forward to these kinds of things. I also understand that this is a very difficult time for business. I get it. Everybody is right in this situation.”

The city has since released a statement saying it is no longer seeking discounts from local businesses for its employees as part of Appreciation Day.

“The City planned an internal event for June 9 to show appreciation to our employees for their continued dedication and hard work during a very challenging year,” said Karie Ortgiese, director of human resources and corporate safety.

“During our appreciation event on June 9, City employees will be eligible to receive gift card draw prizes that were purchased from a variety of local businesses.”

Ortgiese goes on to say that the gift card prizes will be purchased using funds from the city’s wellness and employee events budget normally used for events and activities for employees that were unable to take place this year due to the pandemic.  

“We have removed the discount card portion of the event," Ortgiese said.

“I think it was their attempt to fix what they clearly got wrong,” Wood said. “I’m still hoping to see more action from the city in supporting local businesses who have been decimated by the pandemic and the government’s decision to maintain lockdowns.”

Doug Diaczuk

About the Author: Doug Diaczuk

Doug Diaczuk is a reporter and award-winning author from Thunder Bay. He has a master’s degree in English from Lakehead University
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