Hourly Workers Bear The Brunt Of Snowstorm Closings

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Alma Az, 43, waits for a bus on Concord Avenue in Cambridge Monday, as she makes her way to work in Copley Square.
Alma Az, 43, waits for a bus on Concord Avenue in Cambridge Monday, as she makes her way to work in Copley Square.

A snow blower is an all too familiar sound these days — a sign of clogged streets and sidewalks and school closings. But for people paid by the hour, the relentless snowfall also signals extra stress and added worry, lost time and smaller paychecks.

Kathy, who didn’t want to give her last name, had to walk to the Boston food store where she works on Tuesday because the MBTA had suspended rail service. She lost an hour of pay, but some of her co-workers were out a lot more.

“A few of them, they didn’t come today, so I know they don’t get paid,” she said. “They already have three days out of their paycheck, so it’s going to be tough for them at the end of the month to meet the bills for next month. Most people are living on a weekly paycheck.”

A study from the American Highway Users Alliance estimates closing and transportation delays in the past three weeks have cost the state about $265 million a day. About two-thirds of that figure is lost income for hourly workers.

“You have to show up to get paid … you gotta live, you gotta pay bills.”

– Boston University cafeteria's Devon Roberson

With classes cancelled at Boston University, students were sleeping in Tuesday morning, and the dormitories were quiet. But hourly worker Maria Souza, a housekeeper, was there.

“It’s my first day I come today. Yesterday I can’t because my street is not clean,” Souza said. “… I have to stay at home and stay safe. If you not come, you have to use your sick time or vacation. What are you going to do? You have to survive.”

At BU’s cafeteria, Devon Roberson was serving macaroni and cheese to students. Roberson gets paid by the hour. His usual 20-minute drive to work from Mattapan took him an hour and a half on Tuesday.

“I’ve been here every day. Every snowstorm for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been here every day,” he said. “If you don’t come you’re not going to get no check basically. You have to show up to get paid, you know, you gotta live, you gotta pay bills.”

Roberson lives with his sister. She’s a single mother of four who also works an hourly job. Her kids had a snow day from school Tuesday so she had a choice: stay home or pay a sitter.

Then there are the hourly workers who don’t get a choice.

Along Commonwealth Avenue, Blue State Coffee, Burger Dive and The Goodwill Store were among the establishments closed Tuesday. They all have hourly workers, which means they won’t be getting paid.

“We can’t pay them not to come to work, you know what I mean. That we can’t do, unfortunately,” said Brendan McCarthy, who manages City Convenience on Commonwealth Avenue. He was open Tuesday and all his hourly workers showed up.

“And I’m blessed, I have great employees over here, so they want to work, they want to be here,” McCarthy said. “Because like [anyone] else they need the money. You can’t get frustrated with anybody because we have 70 inches of snow in three weeks. You know what I mean? So you do the best you can.”

And with more snow on the way, hourly workers will be the first to bear the brunt and the burden as winter wears on.

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