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Some companies helping employees cope with higher transportation costs
Ways to save money using VoIP

By SANDRA BAKER and Us (Executive Telephony) / star-telegram
September 22, 2008

[Executive Telephony, Inc.] This report is becoming very common throughout our entire country. While reading this, think about how your company can save a lot of money by implementing some of these money saving techniques while improving your quality of living. What's not mentioned here is the ability to integrate a cell phone into company's VoIP phone system. Please enjoy.

Employees are not the only ones worried about high gasoline prices and the effect on their pocketbooks. Employers are, too.

Some companies are coming up with ways to help employees cope with high gas prices and transportation costs, including offering four-day workweeks and setting up van pools, according to a recent study by Mercer, a benefits consulting company.

The most likely employer boost in coming months? An increase in the mileage reimbursement, according to the survey. A four-day workweek will be the least-used option, according to Mercer’s 2008 Gas Price Impact SnapShot Survey.

Employers are trying to be sensitive to the economy and the rising costs their employees face, but employers also have to be mindful of their own costs, said Erin Packwood, a Mercer principal based in Houston and leader of its rewards consulting group in the Southwest.

"It’s happening in all areas of employees’ lives. Costs are rising," Packwood said. "Employers are trying to do what they can and trying to do what makes sense. More often, they’re trying to show sensitivity."

Packwood said the four-day, 10-hour-a-day workweek isn’t conducive to every industry. Many companies need customer contact every day. That’s why flexible scheduling can be better, or a two-week work period where an employee has one day off every other week, she said.

Four-day weeks

After weighing the pros and cons, Lighthouse for the Blind in Fort Worth went to a four-day workweek in July, President Robert Mosteller said.

Initially, there was groaning from workers getting used to the longer workday, but having Fridays off outweighed the tough transition, Mosteller said. Overall, the move has been well-received by its work force of about 100, who now work 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Mosteller said.

The Lighthouse, 912 W. Broadway Ave. in Fort Worth, makes shipping boxes and has a contract with the Army to make pads that cushion supplies dropped from airplanes.

Now the employees talk about having more time for shopping and scheduling appointments, he said.

Moreover, the Lighthouse is saving 15 to 18 percent on utility costs, and employees are reporting less fatigue and saving on transportation costs, he said.

"Certainly, a big concern for us is transportation," Mosteller said. "Many of our workers ride the T or take MITS. We had in the past talked about it several different times, but there just wasn’t incentive. Gas prices, that put us over the top. The only real reason we’d go back to five days is if we ran into difficulty with our shipping."

School schedules

Many area school districts have four-day workweeks during the summer to help with utility costs.

The Tarrant County College District began a shortened summer schedule during the energy crunch of the mid-1980s and continues it today because it proved popular with the staff, said Bill Lace, executive assistant to the TCC chancellor.

"There are a lot of people who would love to have it year-round," Lace said.

Every other Friday

Employees at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth have had every other Friday off for eight years, but solely as an employee benefit, said Norman Robbins, a senior manager.

Under the program, employees work 10 hours the first eight days of their 10-day pay period and eight hours on the ninth, giving them the 10th day off.

"Most everybody does it," Robbins said.

Van pools

Ride-sharing and car-pooling programs are also popular, with the Mercer survey finding that 23 percent of responding companies plan to start a program in the next six months in response to rising gas prices.

Fast-growing ATC Logistics & Electronics, which has logistics contracts with most major cellphone carriers and their manufacturers, recently started a van pool program to help with parking issues at its plants at Alliance in far north Fort Worth.

Executives quickly found out how popular the idea was with its 2,800 employees. If enough vans were available, the company could easily triple participation, said Randy Engel, vice president and general manager at ATC Logistics.

Now, the company has 10 vans with an average of 10 people in each, he said. The riders are grouped by the shift they work and the area of Tarrant County in which they live. The longest van commute is 68 miles round-trip.

"The participation mushroomed," Engel said.

Felipe Garcia drives a van from the Diamond Hill neighborhood near Meacham Airport, picking up his riders by 4:15 a.m. to make it work for their 5 a.m. shift. Most days, when he looks in his rearview mirror, he said, "I see all of them sleeping."

The idea of saving hundreds of dollars every month in gas costs by leaving their cars at home is drawing workers to the van pool.

Anay Rodriguez, who works the early shift in the testing and repairs department, said she’s saving about $90 a week by not having to drive from her Lake Worth home to Alliance. Instead, she said, she’s saving money for things for her daughter.

Angie Gonzalez stepped up to drive a van from the Seminary Drive and McCart Avenue neighborhood after a driver backed out. That round trip is nearly 60 miles.