Charter Communications, the operator of Spectrum, has been one of the companies refusing to allow staff to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, ignoring guidelines from federal, state, and local authorities while citing its “indispensable” status as an infrastructure provider. Spectrum technicians have also been on the front line, entering homes to service cable and internet lines for customers they have no guarantee are healthy, without hazard pay, and reportedly without supplies like masks, gloves, or hand sanitizer.
Spectrum has now given those technicians a very meager token of gratitude in lieu of compensating them for the serious risks they’re taking on, BuzzFeed News reported: $25 restaurant gift cards. (Restaurants are closed in much of the country.)
“These gift cards never expire, so if you choose a restaurant that is currently not open, the card will remain valid for future use,” Charter executive vice president of field operations Tom Adams wrote to staff in an email obtained by BuzzFeed. “Please take some time out of your busy day to enjoy a meal and recharge.”
“... Your efforts are courageous and highly valued,” Adams added. “We greatly appreciate your dedication to serving our customers and your diligent focus in performing this work during a difficult time for our country.”
According to BuzzFeed, one technician in North Carolina described the moment when he saw the gift card notice as involving “a lot of satirical laughter” and that it’s “quite literally the least they could do.” Another in New York told the site, “It’s really insensitive, it shows they don’t care. You think a gift card is supposed to make us feel better?” Four told BuzzFeed that Spectrum had still not addressed safety concerns or offered hazard pay.
Charter employees who spoke with Gizmodo earlier this month described significantly increased demand after state and local governments told populations to stay home as the pandemic spread. Management downplayed concerns, those workers said—even banning the use of masks to avoid spooking customers—and instructed them not to let the pace of work flag. One told Gizmodo that his supervisor had implemented “mandatory overtime,” joked about the pandemic in emails, and told technicians to “continue getting numbers in spite of the obvious safety issues.”
“We are working overtime around people all day,” one technician said. “When we ask for supplies to help us at work we are told that we are overreacting.”
“Employees are scared, employees are getting sick, and no one in upper management seems to care,” a staffer with Spectrum Reach, the company’s advertising branch, told Gizmodo. “We’ve been instructed to do whatever it takes for our clients, but for a multi-billion-dollar company with over 90,000 employees, no one is doing anything for us.”
Those concerns were backed up by other media accounts. One call center employee told Ars Technica that their central office had 400-700 workers in one room at any given time and provided an email in which managers told workers that if enough room was not available to sit far from each other, they should sit closer.
“This is the rough part: we sit at a different desk every day,” the call-center employee told Ars Technica. “We don’t have our own desks. It’s an absolute nightmare breeding ground for germs on a normal basis.”
In a statement to BuzzFeed, Charter spokesperson Cameron Blanchard wrote that “The response from the technicians to all our recent changes, along with the gift card gesture has been very positive.” Ars Technica reported Charter had confirmed no hazard pay was in place but that it “will continue to monitor both our employee and business continuity plans and adjust as needed.”