Friday, August 12, 2016

Another Race to the Bottom

This morning's Star Tribune greeted me with this ad:

I get both of our local dailies delivered, and I'm aware they are now delivered by a single person, subcontracted to both papers through third parties called agents. While I think it makes a lot of sense (and saves gasoline) for both papers to arrive from the same set of hands, I also know that delivering the paper these days may be the worst job in Twin Cities media, as MinnPost put it.

That's not quite how it sounds in this rosy ad. Let's see...

You can earn "up to $1,500 a month" "in as little as 4 hours a day." Using averages and based on a year of full-time work as 2,080 hours, that kind of payment for four hours a day would be $17.32 an hour. That doesn't cover your gas or vehicle expenses, of course. The IRS mileage rate is currently $.54 per mile — I wonder how many miles these folks drive each night, picking up the papers from the depot and then doing their routes? 30? Even that relatively modest number of miles would eat up $17 worth of income per night. The carriers also have to pay for the bags that protect the papers from the elements.

Then there's the penalty system. If your papers aren't delivered on time for some reason, or the recipient can't find it (as happens to me every few weeks because I have a lot of plants in my front yard) and thinks it wasn't delivered, the carriers are penalized substantially, somewhere between 10 and 100 times their payment per delivery. Of course, they have no sick time or benefits, either, and have to supply their own substitutes.

I've stopped calling to get a replacement paper when mine can't be found because I don't want to be responsible for docking someone's pay without a good reason, and my overgrown yard with a bunch of steps the carrier doesn't want to climb in the dark is not their fault.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics put the median wage of newspaper carriers at $11.38 an hour, though I have no idea how they determine that (from tax returns?). How does that compute with this from MinnPost commenter Sandra Danger, who gave newspaper delivery a try:

Newspaper delivery people get paid 12 cents a paper, and sometimes have to drive over 50 miles a night Monday through Sunday. For every complaint about any issue, the person does not get paid. In fact I worked for three weeks, putting together five sections, paying for the rubber bands, the rain proof plastic, and my gas every single night. Long driveways in the hills, rain, sleet, snow, and being either robbed or harassed by police. I sprained my ankle, limping to place the paper on your door, and my car is almost dead.

Well, I do not get a paycheck at all, I receive no pay, and the manager says that there is no hierarchy in place, and I owe her money. Originally promised three to five hundred dollars in two weeks, and payday rolls around and she tells me it is negative. Why, because I filled my car to the brim, and had to make two trips, and wrap papers from 6:00 pm to 4:00 am in the morning. The final truck arrives at 2:00 am and everything I wrapped from 6 pm - 2 am was doubled. I am supposed to deliver to 300 people including apartments in two hours. I could not do it, and people complained, in fact so many people complain, I do not receive any pay, and now I am claiming bankruptcy.
The next commenter, Eric Franks, responded,
I'm sorry about your experience... I know how to deliver (30 yrs) and I STILL have trouble making money. I see new people come in and get promised pay, and I know they're going to lose money, get blamed for being lazy, or worse... and this is AMERICA! If you get the paper, and have good delivery, make sure they keep paying their workers, because this seems like a cost saver to them all.
Franks continued in a separate comment:
Delivering newspapers is easy. It really is... the problem is that you get paid about 10 cents a paper so you need to deliver 100+ an hour, or you lose money. Seriously... read that again if you blame your carrier...

The pay sucks, and the only way to make money is curbside delivery (in a lot of areas these days). Blame your paper, not the carrier, please. When they paid, the delivery guy delivered.
All of this makes today's recruitment ad look like an example of bait and switch, in my opinion.


Gina said...

Wow. I have only the Sunday paper and it's usually delivered between 7-8 a.m. Thank you for this post. I had no idea what the logistics or economics of newspaper delivery was. I'm with you -- I don't think I'll call to complain unless I truly do not receive my newspaper which has happened but rarely. I suspect that the costs of producing a print newspaper have not remained steady over the years or decreased, and subscriptions for the print version have decreased. Newspapers are getting squeezed. And yet, I am not impressed with the online versions that I have gone to, either. I'd rather have something to hold in my hands on Sunday morning to read with breakfast and a pot of tea.

Gina said...

Oh, and one more thing, I wonder if Minnesota's minimum wage fight will make a difference for newspaper carriers? It sounds like they're paid much below minimum wage even now. Someone ought to go in and organize them into a union!

Michael Leddy said...

I know from a friend who worked at a newspaper that the attrition rate for carriers is very high. Is it any wonder?

Daughter Number Three said...

Gina, both of the MinnPost stories mentioned the possibility of unionizing the carriers, and some of the commenters talked about it as well. Because they're considered contractors and it's essentially piece work, I'm not sure how the recent minimum wage increase would affect them legally.