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Employers Offer Sandy-Affected Workers Hot Showers, Housing, Cash

By Claire Gordon

Damaged roads and disrupted public transit prevented many New York City-area commuters from getting to work in the week following Hurricane Sandy. And because of mass power outages, tens of thousands of offices were shut down.

But that didn't mean employees were all stiffed their paychecks. In fact, many employers in the Tri-State area did whatever they could to ensure that their workers were cared for, as the region reeled from the fiercest storm in its history, which left tens of thousands homeless.

While companies have made grand, charitable gestures to the hurricane relief effort, sometimes even doubling employee contributions to the Red Cross or Salvation Army, less well-known are the kindnesses that they've shown their employees who were severely affected by the storm.

Some were basic, like paying employees for the time they couldn't work, while other companies offered workers thousands of dollars in temporary housing subsidies. One New York CEO, Jason Goldberg of Fab.com, an online design store, even opened his own home to workers who lacked power at theirs.

There were limits to employer generosity, however. Several companies in the area granted their workers a few days of paid time off, but then counted any further time away as vacation, reports The Wall Street Journal. The iconic entertainment company, Madison Square Garden Co., set the cap at three days. A powerful nor'easter expected to strike the Sandy-battered region Wednesday promises to test employer patience even more, with the storm's rain and winds likely to stall recovery for homes and businesses, and more New York and New Jersey residents told to evacuate.

But even companies that employ hourly workers, and aren't required to pay them if they don't work, by and large gave them a paycheck anyway in the week following Sandy. According to Joe Fontana, the political and communications director for Local 338 of the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union, the New York pharmacy chain Duane Reade and the supermarket chains Stop & Shop and A&P (which owns The Food Emporium, Food Basics and Waldbaum's) either paid all their employees or redirected workers to open stores so that they could still clock their hours. Even non-union employers such as Starbucks and Walmart paid their workers for the forced time off.

White collar workplaces have been extraordinarily generous, allowing employees throughout their organization and their families to come to the office for hot meals and showers, and giving out extra paid time off, cash gifts, and temporary housing.

American Express workers in the Tri-State area who were severely impacted received 10 additional paid days off, and up to $500 to pay for clothing, food, shelter and a rental car, a spokeswoman said. AmEx also provided up to $2,500 for temporary living arrangements for storm victims who were displaced, and up to $5,000 if they lost their homes.