It’s a difficult time to be a worker. Inflation is spiraling and recession fears loom, putting a pinch on the pocketbooks of everyday Americans. Even getting to work, thanks to sky-high gas prices, can feel practically untenable.
For that, the people who run Cummings Properties in Woburn have a bit of help: a commuter fuel stipend.
The firm, which owns and manages commercial real estate — mostly office buildings in the northern suburbs — has roughly 650 employees. For each hour they work through at least the end of the year, an extra dollar will be tacked onto their paycheck to account for higher gas costs.
“It’s not going to be life-changing for most,” admits Cummings president Eric Anderson, but it’s something “to ease the pain. We know our colleagues are hurting right now.”
All told, employees can bring home an extra $40 a week, which would add up to an outlay by Cummings of about $600,000 by year’s end.
The company’s founder, Bill Cummings, hatched the idea in late May after paying some $70 to fill the tank of his small car.
“He thought, ‘Geez, I can well afford this, but not everyone can,’” said Anderson.
The stipend may carry more weight at Cummings than at some other Massachusetts companies: The firm is back in the office five days a week, and its employees commute from all over the region.
Account manager Dave Harvey drives around 40 minutes each day from his home in Salem, N.H., to the company’s corporate office in Woburn, and has felt the pinch of rising gas prices in recent months. When he’s driving his Volkswagen Passat, he pays around $70 to fill the tank. When he’s stuck with the family Chevrolet Suburban, fuel costs can hit $120.
“It’s a huge difference from what we were paying before,” said Harvey, who has three college-aged children. “The $40 that we get per week, it’s not much, but right now it feels like a lifesaver.”
Indeed, any form of relief for commuters is much needed these days. US gas prices hit an all time high a few weeks back, with regular unleaded peaking at just over $5 per gallon. On Wednesday, the US average was $4.87 per gallon, according to AAA. In Massachusetts, that figure was $4.91, up from $4.74 last month and $2.99 this time last year.
You can thank Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has jolted the global fuel supply chain, though economists have said that the pandemic-induced economic slump for oil companies and the start of US hurricane season play a role as well.
And high prices at the pump are only one part of broader inflation, which is at its highest rate in 40 years.
Cummings’s program is one of many that companies around the US are trying out as fuel prices serve as yet another setback to office return plans. Some firms with offices near public transit, for example, are subsidizing employees’ fare passes. Cummings’s stipend has been up and running since May 31, and so far has proven popular with employees.
“I think the greatest value comes in the message being being relayed to the employees, which is ‘Hey, look, we understand that this is a painful period. We care and we want to do something to try and just ease that burden,’” said Anderson.