In Boston, just getting to work is a job in itself

Marketplace Contributor Feb 24, 2015
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In Boston, just getting to work is a job in itself

Marketplace Contributor Feb 24, 2015
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Just in case you haven’t heard, Boston has been getting pounded with snow.

Roads are so clogged that some two-way streets have temporarily been designated one-way. Like a lot of other institutions in the city, Boston’s mass transit system – the oldest in America — broke down under the strain. Trains and buses are running late, if at all. Exasperated Boston residents agree it’s tough to get anywhere these days.

Kenneth Williams, 65, takes the bus to his job as a detox counselor and over the past few weeks has regularly been an hour late.

“The management looks at me like what’s up, again? Again?” he says.

Williams’ bus ride takes twice as long because traffic on snow-constricted roads moves at a crawl. The trains are no better – many of the above-ground lines aren’t running. Punishing weather has broken so many parts of the archaic transit system that officials say it’ll take a month to recover.

It’s all made for “total frustration on the part of both employees and employers,” says Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. The economic research firm IHS estimates that the Massachusetts economy is taking a $265 million dollar hit every day the situation continues.

“Some employers have allowed their workers to work from home – those particularly who have technology that allows for that,” Guzzi says.

But, of course, technology doesn’t help the many businesses that need employees on-site. Kevin Long, executive chef of the restaurant Red Lantern, says challenges have been overwhelming for businesses like his. Like many employers whose workers get paid by the hour, Long sats when his employees don’t show up, he can’t pay them. But he’s trying to be flexible and understanding.

“We’ve put employees in Ubers and taken care of taxis and carpooled, picked people up, dropped them off,” he says. But that hasn’t always worked.

“Obviously we’ve had some days that we’ve had to close. We hate to close – you hate to shut the doors to people that might be trying to get out.”

While there’s no law against laying off people for not being able to get to work, Professor Tom Kochan of the MIT Sloan School of Management said if employers go that route, it might backfire.

“I think these are times that are testing the bonds between employers and workers,” he says. “I think in the majority of cases it is strengthening those bonds. But in some cases it may fray them if one party or the other thinks the other one is taking advantage of the situation.”

These times are also testing the bonds between businesses and their customers. Bright Horizons Family Solutions — one of the state’s largest employers – provides back-up emergency childcare for employees of places like hospitals and law firms. CEO David Lissy says to keep that service going over the past few weeks, Bright Horizons had to find  alternatives to public transportation for its own workers. 

“Times like this really are times for us to shine and really engender a lot of loyalty with our clients,” he says.

And for those companies that can’t shine just now, they’re soldiering on with the hope that winter will soon end.

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