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Snowed-in workers wonder about employers’ pay policies

The payoff for some employees who didn’t make it to work this past week could be nearly as harsh as the snowstorm that pummeled parts of the region and kept them home.

Some workers will see smaller paychecks or fewer vacation days to use toward an actual vacation, thanks to the double-barrelled storm.

“Thank God, I had vacation hours to burn,” said Caitlyn Gullekson, who last worked a full shift at the CVS pharmacy in Blasdell on Monday and has been stuck in her Lackawanna home ever since.

Gullekson considers herself fortunate she’ll see a full paycheck, “but that’s not anything you want to use your vacation for.”

As they continued to dig out from the storm, some employees who won’t get paid at all for the days they missed wondered how they’ll make up for the lost income. Other workers will get paid only if they use vacation or personal days. And some are waiting for their employers to decide how they’ll handle a storm that was unique in its severity.

Many workers are assured of a full paycheck because of company policy or a contractual guarantee. Some employers who normally don’t pay employees for weather-related absences are making exceptions for this storm, which dumped more than 6 feet of snow in parts of the southern and eastern suburbs and caused havoc with work schedules.

Some employees in the Northtowns could get to work, but their offices were closed because of the snow and related driving bans. In other cases, businesses remained open but employees in the Southtowns were snowed in and unable to leave their homes.

Many employees have been out of work since Tuesday.

John Hoertz, a reliability engineer at Moog, said he doesn’t know how the company will deal with employees’ pay for their time off. Moog closed its sprawling East Aurora campus on Tuesday and hasn’t reopened since. The only communication he’s heard is that the company plans to reopen Monday. Ann Luhr, a Moog spokeswoman who has worked from her Kenmore home, said she couldn’t provide details on how the company will address the days the offices were closed.

Hoertz had his company laptop with him at his West Seneca home.

“I can actually get some work done at home,” he said.

Brittany Mecca has no such uncertainty. The Riverside resident is an instructional coach with the Buffalo Public Schools, which have been closed since Tuesday. She and her fellow teachers get paid for snow days.

She didn’t have much snow – “barely enough to make a snowman” – and said her heart goes out to those who felt the brunt of the storm. “I feel almost guilty that we’re so unaffected,” Mecca said.

Kaleida Health employees who couldn’t make it into work won’t be penalized or have to use paid time off under a “hold harmless” exception due to the storm. The hospital system is also working with its unions to help employees who missed work but don’t have any more time off, said Daniel J. Farberman, Kaleida Health’s vice president of labor/employee relations. Conversely, Kaleida is trying to do something more for employees who came in and worked two, three or four days straight.

Other big employers have yet to decide how they’ll handle pay for the week.

Delaware North offered salaried employees the opportunity to work from home. Because of the unusual scale of the storm, the hospitality and food-services giant is weighing how to handle hourly workers who couldn’t make it in for their shifts, said Glen White, a company spokesman.

Erie County plans to pay employees for the day county offices were closed to nonessential workers, but has yet to determine how it will handle employees who couldn’t make it to work the rest of the week, said Peter Anderson, a spokesman for County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.

Some employers were making exceptions because of the storm’s historic force.

The Olmsted Center for Sight, which employs about 175 workers, has decided to pay its hourly and salaried workers for time they missed because of the storm.

“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” said Tamara Owen, the center’s president and CEO.

The center closed its preschool in the Sweet Home School District on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and the entire agency, including its Main Street headquarters, was closed Thursday. On Friday, Owen informed staffers they’d be paid for their scheduled shifts.

“After I sent out the email, everybody’s sending me emails back with pictures: ‘I’m stuck in my home. Here’s a picture of my driveway,’ ” Owen said.

Union workers at the Goodyear Dunlop Tire plant in the Town of Tonawanda normally face potential disciplinary measures if they don’t report to work for a scheduled shift, said Thomas O’Shei, president of United Steel Workers Local 135, which represents about 900 workers. Early in the storm, some Goodyear Dunlop workers who missed work vented their frustration about the company’s strict disciplinary policies on Facebook.

But the rubber plant, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, dispensed with that policy for those who couldn’t make it into work due to driving bans, O’Shei said.

“Anybody that lived anywhere within a driving ban, they’re saying no discipline, everyone has to be safe,” said O’Shei.

The plant, which has many employees from hard-hit areas such as Cheektowaga, West Seneca and South Buffalo, remained open throughout the storm.

To get paid their normal wages, workers who missed a shift will have to use vacation time. Those who don’t have any vacation time available won’t be paid, said O’Shei. Those workers don’t get paid sick time.

“When they found out they weren’t in trouble, by day three they were saying, ‘I need to get to work to make some money,’ ” said O’Shei.

O’Shei encouraged workers who missed shifts because of the storm to file for unemployment benefits. Workers could be eligible for federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance program if President Obama declares a major disaster for the region.

SUNY Buffalo State was open Tuesday but classes were canceled Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Workers will be paid for Thursday and Friday, at the direction of the governor’s office, but the state hasn’t yet given the college guidance on how to handle Wednesday or Tuesday for those who couldn’t made it to campus, college spokesman Jerod Dahlgren said. For now, faculty and staff would have to use vacation or personal days for both days.

Workers at D’Youville College will be paid for the four days they missed while the campus was shut down without having to dip into their vacation or other days, college spokesman John Bray said from his snow-packed West Seneca home.

M&T Bank employees who work at branches or offices that closed for the storm, or who couldn’t get to work without violating a travel ban, will be paid for the days as emergency leave and won’t have to tap into their store of days off, spokesman Chet Bridger said.

The HarborCenter plans to pay employees of its rinks, Tim Hortons café and (716) Food & Sport restaurant, including hourly workers, for the scheduled shifts they missed when the facility was closed.

Some employers stayed open because they provide needed goods or services, but not all of their employees could make it.

Tops Markets is letting salaried employees who can’t make it to work perform their duties from home, and is giving hourly workers who couldn’t get to their store the chance to work extra shifts or to use vacation time to ensure they get paid, said Jack Barrett, senior vice president of human resources.

“We’re an essential industry,” said Barrett. Tops has more than 2,000 workers at 12 stores and a warehouse in the lake-effect Snow Belt.

On Saturday, Gullekson’s car was still buried on Caldwell Street in Lackawanna, where a driving ban remained in effect.

But she and her boyfriend, Clark Rife were eager to trade in the snow shovels and return to their regular work routines.

“I hope to get back to work on Monday because I can’t afford to miss any more time,” she said. “We’re hoping and praying for Monday.”

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