Cable Tech

New York AG turns up heat on Charter's COVID-19 response – report

New York Attorney General Letitia James has reportedly opened an inquiry into Charter Communications's response to and policies for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New York AG office opened the inquiry on Monday, April 20 to check how Charter is managing its employees during the pandemic, according to The New York Times. More than 230 Charter employees have tested positive for COVID-19 so far, the paper reported, citing an unnamed source.

The New York AG office did not respond to questions from Light Reading about the report, but the inquiry only builds on an already strained relationship between Charter and the New York AG's office. In late 2018, Charter agreed to pay $175 million to settle with then New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood on charges stemming from a suit filed the year before claiming that Time Warner Cable (Charter acquired TWC in May 2016) had under-delivered on promised Internet speeds. Charter began to issue credits tied to that settlement last March.

Charter, which has about 95,000 employees across 41 states, has not confirmed the coronavirus infection totals cited by The New York Times, but told the paper that a "significant majority" of the company's US office and call center employees are now working from home. The Times estimated that about 40,000 Charter employees work in call centers or offices and 55,000 are field techs, retail employees and other employees that would have face-to-face interactions with customers under normal circumstances.

"Over the past three weeks, we have dramatically reduced the number of employees going into the field or into the office while maintaining the efficacy of our business operations that is so critical to fighting this pandemic," Charter said in a statement. "We have also announced a variety of enhanced benefits to help alleviate employees' concerns while still being able to meet the elevated needs of our customers and businesses across the country during the crisis."

Charter, which ended 2019 with about 24.9 million broadband customers, is considered an essential service during the pandemic. Charter's initial policies during the earlier stages of the pandemic were criticized last month by a now former Charter employee who was upset that some employees were still required to come into the office, calling the policy "reckless." That Denver-based engineer, Nick Wheeler, made his opinion known via an internal email and later resigned.

Charter later altered its policies to allow certain employees to work from home while also providing additional personal time and enacting new social distancing plans in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The New York Times also pointed to a petition at Change.org demanding that even more Charter employees be allowed to work from home. As of this writing, 7,876 employees had signed the petition.

Earlier this week, Charter announced it would not lay off or furlough anyone for at least the next 60 days and that it would provide three weeks of COVID-19-related flex time. That followed an earlier announced plan to boost the pay of all hourly workers from $15 to $20 over the next two years, with an immediate increase of $1.50 an hour for frontline field and customer operations workers and an additional $1.50 an hour starting March 21 on top of an annual merit increase.

Charter is also among the many US ISPs to get behind a "Keep Americans Connected Pledge," led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, aimed at keeping broadband service and network disruptions at a minimum during the pandemic.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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