Hundreds of Texans who were left without power and were unable to work when the deadly Storm Uri hit the state last week are now being told by their employers they have to take any days missed as vacation or otherwise forfeit their pay.
Internal emails and messages observed by the Daily Beast indicate that dozens of employers in Texas have told those who were unable to get to work or unable to work remotely because of power loss that they must considered the lost days as vacation.
Those with no vacation days left to use up or those unwilling to forfeit holiday, however, will be forced to go without pay.
Among the employers in question are several large entities, including Bell Textron Inc., United Ag & Turf, BAE Systems, and even the City of Dallas.
It comes as some residents in the state are also grappling with another crisis: sky-high electricity bills in the region of thousands of dollars, as a result of surges in wholesale energy pricing as millions lost power.
Hundreds of Texans who were left without power and were unable to work when the deadly Storm Uri hit the state last week are now being told they have to take any days missed as vacation or otherwise forego pay
Among the employers in question are several large entities, including Bell Textron Inc. formerly known as Bell Helicopter
Speaking on the grounds of anonymity, a Bell Textron employee told the Beast: ‘We are required to use vacation on the days of the storm when I had no heat or WiFi, or I can forfeit the money and not get paid.
‘I’m disappointed and nervous about the next year,’ they said. ‘Even though I’m salaried, I’m entry-level, and any knock to my income will put me on the street—and that’s terrifying.’
Bell Textron has not yet returned a DailyMail.com request for comment, however emails sent by management that have been obtained by the Beast lay out the company’s policy clearly.
‘Employees who are unable to fully dedicate their time and attention to company business due to current conditions should use available PTO, vacation, or holiday flex time if they wish to be paid for today,’ an email sent to employees by Bell executives last week reads.
‘Otherwise, employees who do not have any remaining PTO, vacation, or holiday flex time or do not wish to use their unused PTO, vacation, or holiday flex time will not be paid for today.’
According to the Bell employee, most of the companies facilities were closed for the entire week during Storm Uri, and at one stage workers were also unable to access a VPN that grants them access to company systems remotely.
This meant that many employees at Bell weren’t able to work from home, even if they had electricity.
Similar messages were also sent to employees by management at United Ag & Turf – a John Deere equipment dealer – and BAE Systems – a British security and aerospace company.
United Ag & Turf employees were informed they must take responsibility for maintaining a time-off balance should such a freak occurrence of weather happen again in the near future
Treacherous conditions and icy roads meant thousands of Texas were unable to get to work in Storm Uri’s wake
Millions were also left without power, leaving many more unable to even work from home (pictured: Vehicles drive down East 7th Street as power outages continue to darken most of East Austin, Texas on Wednesday, February 17)
One BAE employee said they decided to speak out about the company’s policy because they believe it ‘wasn’t right’ and ‘people needed to know’ about it.
In a statement, BAE said: ‘As a government contractor, there are regulations we must follow for labor charged by our employees. The events of last week are unusual and we are working with employees on how to properly handle any time they were unable to work.
‘In addition, we activated our Immediate Response Program to support our colleagues and provide financial assistance to affected employees and their families.’
Meanwhile, United Ag & Turf employees were told to save days off in case similar freak weather happens again in the near future.
‘To be prepared for circumstances like this in the future, each employee is expected to manage their PTO and encouraged to always carry a balance for unexpected situations like health issues and bad weather. This type of assistance will not be offered in the future,’ a message from executive management of United Ag & Turf read, according to the Beast.
An employee of the tractor dealer said they’re ‘angry’ at the company’s stance, adding they could’ve ‘looked like heroes’ by paying people for missed days but instead ‘opted to add insult to injury’.
Employees of BAE Systems – a British security and aerospace company – were also informed they would either have to take time off or forgo pay
Government employees are also among some of those affected, with a similar letter sent to the library department of the City of Dallas.
In the message, employees were informed they too will be required to use personal leave to compensate for any lost work.
‘It’s really disheartening that HR (who have worked entirely from home for the past year, by the way) get to just decide whether people get paid or not,’ a city employee told the Beast.
City communications representative Catherine Cuellar confirmed the nature of the email, adding that those without paid time available can either ‘make up time within the pay period’ or apply for emergency administrative paid leave.
Cuellar appeared to hit back at claims that the city’s HR department ‘just decided’ to potentially cut pay for certain employees, adding ‘we have processes and layers of accountability for taxpayer dollars.’
‘So it becomes a question at the federal government level whether or not paying that worker emergency administrative pay was a necessary expense during the weather event,’ she continued. ‘That has been the city’s policy for emergency weather-related pay for a decade.’
According to Austin-based employment lawyer Austin Kaplan, the developments comes as a consequence of a lack of labor protections in Texas. He said employers in the state are not required to pay any vacation time at all, and there are ‘no safety nets’.
Such a lack of protections means employers are permitted to decide how to handle the fallout from Storm Uri completely at their own discretion.
Government employees are also among some of those affected, with a similar letter sent to the library department of the City of Dallas (Dallas Public Library shown above)
Another issue facing Texans is the prospect of being handed sky-high electricity bills, after plummeting temperatures left millions without power.
The surge in pricing is hitting people who have chosen to pay wholesale prices for their power, which is typically cheaper than paying fixed rates during good weather, but can spike when there’s high demand for electricity. Many of those who have reported receiving large bills are customers of electricity provider Griddy, which only operates in Texas.
Among them is Susan Hosford of Denison, Texas. On a typical February day, she pays Griddy less than $2.50 for power. But the one-day cost spiked to hundreds of dollars after the storm. In all, she was automatically charged $1,346.17 for the first two weeks of February, which was more than she had in her checking account, causing her bank to charge her overdraft fees and affect other bills.
‘This whole thing has been a nightmare,’ she said.
Griddy said it has 29,000 members. It’s unclear how many other Texans also pay wholesale prices from other companies.
‘We won’t get the full picture on the financial devastation for maybe 30 to 90 days,’ said Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Sunday that he is working with members of the legislature to address skyrocketing energy bills and [find ways that the state can help reduce this burden.’
But he didn’t give specifics on what that may be. For the time being, the state has stopped companies from cutting off power for not paying.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Sunday that he is working with members of the legislature to address skyrocketing energy bills and [find ways that the state can help reduce this burden’
Dozens of victims perished in Texas during the storm after freezing to death after losing power
Shortages of food and clean drinking water also affected millions as grocery stores run out of supplies and pipes froze across the state
With the snow and ice now clearing in Texas after days of unusually cold temperatures, bodies are being found of people who likely froze to death as they struggled to stay warm.
Of the around 70 deaths attributed to the snow, ice and frigid temperatures nationwide, more than a dozen were people who perished in homes that had lost their heat, and most of those were in Texas.
President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in the state where 14 million were without water at one point with towns cut off from the electricity grid for seven days.
The move – announced on Saturday – makes federal funding available to individuals across the state, including assistance for temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans for losses on uninsured property.
The victims of the crisis include 11-year-old Cristian Pavon, who perished of hypothermia in his family’s mobile home in Conroe, near Houston, a day after he was pictured enjoying the snow – the first he had ever seen in his life.
Among the other dead are a man who reportedly froze to death in his recliner chair with his ‘nearly dead’ wife by his side; three children who perished in a fire as they huddled in a fireplace for warmth; and a mother and daughter died who from carbon monoxide poisoning as they bundled in their car in a garage.
Two older men were also found dead in their homes in the small West Texas town of Buffalo Gap in Taylor County.