Telecommuting, emergency care benefits ease workplace strike issues
By David Roeder, Francine Knowles and Sandra Guy Business Reporters September 10, 2012 7:04PM
Teachers picket outside Bouchet school at 73rd & Jeffery. | Sun-Times
Updated: October 12, 2012 6:15AM
For companies and their employees caught in a child-care conundrum, the Chicago teachers’ strike could push companies toward adopting flexible schedules or letting people telecommute. For workers, the same circumstances could prompt them to check out benefits some employers already offer, such as on-site or subsidized child care.
“Companies need to make all work, or as much of it as they can, portable,” said John Challenger, chief executive of the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. For many employers, the easiest option is telecommuting, Challenger said. The teachers’ strike “could impel companies to go in that direction,” he said.
Companies used to fear abuse of work-at-home privileges, Challenger said, but that has diminished as they collect positive experiences with the policy. “People are very responsible and appreciative,” he said.
While employers the Sun-Times contacted Monday reported little immediate impact on the first day of the strike, a long walkout will multiply the headaches.
Sittercity, the Chicago-based online babysitter-finding service, saw a 17 percent jump in its Monday traffic compared with a typical Monday in back-to-school season.
“This is definitely a jump in our business,” said Sittercity spokeswoman Mary Schwartz.
The site, which enables parents to find and hire baby sitters, first started getting increased traffic last Thursday, Schwartz said.
The national average babysitter’s rate is $11.25 an hour. Parents can click on to find out the going rates at their ZIP code. One local Chicago neighborhood rate was $12.25 an hour for two children, for example.
Sittercity is offering Chicago-area parents a free one-month’s membership if they use promotional code CPS. A one-month membership usually costs $35.
Sue Zeiler, founder of children’s activities website ChicagoKids.com, said one mother emailed her that $350 a week to pay for extra childcare would take all of that mother’s rent and grocery money.
“To the extent that we have any employees who need to change schedules to make provisions for their kids, we have a pretty flexible culture,” said John Dern, spokesman for Boeing Co., which employs about 450 people in the Chicago area. “We encourage them to work with managers to make accommodations determined as necessary.”
At Chicago-based investment research firm Morningstar Inc., which employs about 1,300 people in its Chicago office, “it’s been relatively quiet here so far,” said spokesman Shawn Malayter. “But we’ve long had flexible scheduling and telecommuting capabilities available for our employees, so we’re well-prepared to provide options for parents who are impacted by the CPS teachers strike.”
Ron Torrance, benefits manager at online lender Enova International Inc., said the company’s 650 employees in the Chicago area were reminded Monday of a benefit Enova offers called Parents in a Pinch. The program enables employees to book last-minute child care by calling a toll-free number.
“They can pick whether to go to a center within proximity of their home, or they can have a caregiver that is pre-screened, interviewed and also has ratings and reviews, that can come to their home to perform the services for that day in their home,” Torrance said. He said two workers took advantage of the program Monday.
“We’ve offered the program for a number of years now. The foundation of that was to make sure that for reasons just like this, schools may shut down or there might be something else wrong with the caregiver that was already in place.”
Workers who participate pay a co-pay of $50 a day. Chicago-based Enova subsidizes the rest, Torrance said, adding the child care services are on average upwards of $125 a day.
At the LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based temporary staffing and recruiting service, it was business as unusual Monday, according to spokeswoman Lizzie Souza.
“We had one candidate who was late to an interview because of the strike, but that’s about it. Our team was surprised that nothing seems different in the hiring world.”
In Chicago, WMS Gaming spokeswoman Mollie Cole said the gaming company “would absolutely” let employees work remotely if the need arises.
“It would be a quick call to HR [human resources] and we’d take care of it,” Cole said. The company had not yet had to make such accommodations by the end of Monday.