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Lacking transport, low-wage workers take a hit

Charmaine Carroll has been unable to drive her car out of her Hyde Park neighborhood. sean proctor/globe staff/Boston Globe

The $30 cab ride that Chazmaine Carroll had to take to get home from her job as a security guard this week amounted to nearly half her take-home pay for the day.

For Medina Ahmed, a fast-food worker who does not have the option of working from home, the MBTA shutdown cost her two days’ wages. Taking a taxi to work would have cost her more than she makes in a day.

Isidro Melo, who’s part of the cleaning crew at Boston Medical Center, also was stranded, unable to get to work without the commuter rail or the Red Line. He and his wife live in Lowell because of the lower cost of housing there.


These workers illustrate the disproportionate hardship the snow has imposed on the area’s lowest-paid workers. For them, it’s more than a temporary inconvenience. It’s a financial blow that can make all the difference in paying bills, making the rent, and putting food on the table.

Unlike many other commuters, low-wage workers often don’t get paid when the trains stop running. Labor and service-oriented jobs can’t be done from home; getting in late or having to leave early means less money in their pockets.

And often, they don’t have vacation or sick time to make up for lost wages.

“A lot of these folks aren’t going to get paid for the day, and they’re already on the edge,” said Russ Davis, executive director of the workers rights group Massachusetts Jobs With Justice. “You’re living paycheck to paycheck. Some people would not be able to cover their rent.”

Lower-wage employees depend heavily on public transportation. In Boston, more than 40 percent of low-income workers use trains or buses to get to their jobs, compared with about 30 percent of other workers, according to the US Census. And when public transit grinds to a halt or slows to a crawl, as it has many times in the last few weeks, it can exact a serious toll on them.


Carroll, the security guard, recently bought a car so she could drive from her home in Hyde Park to her job at Berklee College of Music in the Back Bay. But during snowstorms, the plows rarely make it down her street, and she has to rely on public transportation.

Lately, however, the MBTA has been far from reliable. Carroll took cabs and Uber rides a few times to speed up her regular public transit route — two buses and an Orange Line train — but on Tuesday, with the T completely down and no money for a cab, she called her supervisor and told him she couldn’t make it in. The loss of about $80 will make it even tougher to catch up on bills.

On Wednesday, with her car still buried and her street still a mess, Carroll turned to the bus and T again. She got to work 45 minutes late.

“I’m just chalking it up to a loss that I have to suck up,” she said. For the 35-year-old Carroll, sucking it up could mean being unable to pay the electric bill, which she is already behind on.

Carroll’s employer, Securitas, did not return a call seeking comment.

Ahmed, a longtime Dunkin’ Donuts employee, normally takes a bus and an Orange Line train to get from her home in Roslindale to her babysitter to her job at North Station. But with the T out of service, Ahmed missed two shifts, and $148, before taxes.


When she could get in, she often arrived late due to reduced train schedules and buses crawling along snow-clogged streets, which also means less money in her pocket.

“I was worried this morning about my rent,” said the 33-year-old Ahmed, who has a 6-year-old son and a 7-month-old daughter. “This month, we don’t make nothing.”

Dunkin’ Donuts spokeswoman Michelle King said franchise owners generally pay hourly workers only for the time they work, although the decision is up to individual store owners.

In Lowell, there was little Melo could do but shovel snow — and watch for news about the MBTA. Usually, Melo either takes the commuter rail or has his wife drop him off at the Alewife Red Line station in Cambridge, where he takes the train to the bus to Boston Medical Center, where he scrubs and waxes floors.

He has had to miss work three times in the past few weeks because of the MBTA’s foundering public transportation system, and has had to call in on several other occasions to say he would be late.

Melo is able to use vacation and sick time to get paid for the 24 hours of work he missed. But he hates wasting his precious time off, and he’s concerned that missing so many shifts will reflect poorly on his work ethic.

Boston Medical Center said it warned staff about the MBTA service interruptions so they could make other arrangements, and the hospital put up some workers overnight.


Melo said he and his wife, a medical assistant at a clinic in Lexington, can’t move closer to their jobs: “We couldn’t afford to live in Boston on what we make. We’re struggling now to keep up with certain things. Like others, we live check by check.”

Katie Johnston can be reached at