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Coronavirus help: Comcast pledges $500 million to workers; executives forgo salaries

Meg James
Comcast set up a $500-million relief fund for workers dealing with hardship due to the coronavirus.  (Cindy Ord / Getty Images)

Comcast Corp. pledged $500 million to help employees struggling through the coronavirus health crisis, and its five top leaders will donate their salaries to COVID-19 relief efforts.

"We hope in some small way we can make this time easier on our employees, our local communities and our customers," Comcast Chairman and Chief Executive Brian Roberts said Wednesday in a memo to staff members.

The Philadelphia-based cable giant, which is the nation's largest cable TV and broadband internet provider, joins a list of companies that have set up relief funds for workers facing hardships due to the pandemic.

Comcast owns media company NBCUniversal, which has operations in Los Angeles, Orlando and New York, which has been devastated by the virus. The $500-million fund is intended to "support our employees through continued pay and benefits where operations have been paused or impacted," Roberts said.

Last week, NBCUniversal Chief Executive Jeff Shell announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the highest-ranking media executive to disclose contracting the illness. Shell, 54, has been recovering and working from his home in Los Angeles after becoming ill March 15.

The $500-million fund includes $150 million that NBCUniversal recently pledged to help its workforce, including hourly employees at its Universal Studios theme parks. Comcast increased the overall amount that it has pledged to also assist employees in its two other major divisions: Comcast Cable and the Sky satellite TV service in Britain and parts of Europe.

"Additionally, effective today, and for the duration of this situation, our senior leaders ... and I have chosen to donate 100% of our salaries to charities that support COVID-19 relief efforts," Roberts said.

The five executives who plan to donate their salaries are Roberts, Shell, Comcast Chief Financial Officer Michael J. Cavanagh; Comcast Cable Chief Executive Dave Watson; and Jeremy Darroch, the chief executive of Sky.

Roberts' salary in 2018 was $3.2 million, Cavanagh received nearly $2 million and Watson earned $1.5 million, according to regulatory filings.

On Monday, Walt Disney Co. Executive Chairman Bob Iger announced that he would forgo his salary, beginning today. Disney CEO Bob Chapek said he would give up 50% of his salary.

While corporate chieftains draw multimillion-dollar salaries, they also receive stock and other benefits that significantly boost their compensation.

Meanwhile, Netflix has set up a $100-million relief fund for Hollywood workers, and WarnerMedia has also pledged $100 million in relief for production crews.

"I am also grateful to the leadership across Comcast, NBCUniversal and Sky who have stepped up again and again to do the right thing and take care of our teams," Roberts said, noting that all employees who were able to work from home were now doing so. "Where we have people who need to be in an office or in the field, we are doing everything possible to make their environments clean and safe."

Comcast this week also announced that it had made available educational programming, including thousands of free titles, to its Xfinity cable TV customers so that parents would have age-appropriate learning materials to home school their children.

The company also instituted new procedures and daily temperature checks for employees who deal with the public, including visiting people's homes, and said it would distribute self-install kits for new residential customers. In addition, Comcast joined Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai's pledge not to cut off internet service for people who are behind in paying their bills.