Firms Work to Locate and Pay Displaced Workers

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While authorities add up the human toll from Hurricane Katrina, companies are sorting out their roles. Many vow to continue paying their employees, even those without jobs to go to. The level of pay and benefits that a company offers varies widely.


While authorities add up the human toll from Hurricane Katrina, companies are sorting out their roles. Many vow to continue paying their employees, even those who no longer have jobs to go to. NPR's Jack Speer reports that the level of pay and benefits each company offers varies widely.

JACK SPEER reporting:

Katrina hit a region of the country that is home to not only millions of people, but also to thousands of businesses, many of which will be cleaning up for months. Brian Cullin is with Northrop Grumman which employs upwards of 20,000 people at its various ship-building operations along the Gulf Coast. He says they've already moved to help those affected by the storm.

Mr. BRIAN CULLIN (Northrop Grumman): About 75 percent of our folks are direct deposit, so we did an immediate move to make sure that they had pay in their accounts last Friday. The Northrop Grumman Corporation made a decision to ensure that our workers had two weeks of pay, even if they weren't there at the yards being able to get to work or have enough gas to get to work, they were going to be paid for that work.

SPEER: Other companies have taken a similar stance. Harrah's Entertainment sought two of is large floating casinos, one in Biloxi, the other in Gulfport, destroyed. The company's New Orleans casino was heavily damaged. Yet the company says it will pay the 7,500 workers it employees in the area for 90 days. Jan Jones is senior VP for government relations with the Nevada-based gaming company. She says walking away from employees who have no workplace to go to wasn't an option.

Ms. JAN JONES (Senior Vice President, Harrah's Entertainment): For our employees, the industry was such a driver of the economy in Mississippi and the devastation was so complete. They were totally without options. They have no work, no home and we're right now doing outreach to try and make sure we know where all of our employees are.

SPEER: Along with paying employees' salaries, Harrah's has also agreed to pick up the cost of health-care premiums for those workers. Other large service sector companies, like McDonald's, will pay workers at company on locations for the next two weeks. Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, is paying workers but only for three days. There'll be limited cash assistance for affected employees. Melissa O'Brien is a Wal-Mart spokesperson. She says the company's helping in other ways.

Ms. MELISSA O'BRIEN (Wal-Mart Spokesperson): We are trying to find them work at our stores across the country so that their pay can continue.

SPEER: Wal-Mart's efforts are primarily going towards broad hurricane relief. The company is donating $15 million along with another $8 million from the Walton Family Foundation for victims of Katrina. And for many companies, the final cost of the storm aren't yet known. Bart Bailey is CEO of 3001 Incorporated, a small satellite mapping company. He says virtually all his 115 employees were in the area affected by the hurricane; as of yesterday, four were still unaccounted for. Bailey plans to keep paying his people for now, but says eventually the small, privately held company will have to reassess.

Mr. BART BAILEY (CEO, 3001 Incorporated): We worked out the finances and looked at covering people's benefits and stuff and the initial estimate is that we can handle this up until the end of October, at which point, if we don't have them settled and working, then we will be facing some difficult choices at that point.

SPEER: In the wake of the hurricane, other companies are also trying to help their employees. Oil company, Chevron, has set up a small tent city near one of its refineries to serve as temporary housing for displaced workers and their families.

Jack Speer, NPR News.

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