Boston Globe Delivery Workers Say Their Working Conditions Are Terrible

Aviva Chomsky January 19, 2016

(mstempics / Flickr)

If you live any­where near the Boston area, you’ve prob­a­bly heard or read some­thing about the Boston Globes recent deliv­ery deba­cle. Since the news­pa­per con­tract­ed with a new deliv­ery com­pa­ny start­ing Decem­ber 28, the entire deliv­ery sys­tem col­lapsed, and sub­scribers have been puz­zled and furi­ous that their dai­ly news­pa­per has van­ished with lit­tle expla­na­tion and lit­tle hope for restora­tion any time soon.

In my book Undoc­u­ment­ed, I includ­ed a sec­tion on news­pa­per deliv­ery. I crit­i­cized the way work­ers were clas­si­fied as inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors, mean­ing that they could receive less than min­i­mum wage and be exclud­ed from work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion and unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits. I point­ed out that they work 365 days a year, start­ing between one and four in the morn­ing, could not miss a day of work unless they arranged for their own replace­ment, and had to dri­ve hun­dreds of miles a week, pay­ing for their own gas and car maintenance.

Final­ly, I noticed that regard­less of the sever­i­ty of a snow emer­gency or whether the streets had even been plowed, work­ers were required to show up for their routes. It’s a job,” I wrote, made for an undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grant.” Indeed, in the Boston area and else­where in the Unit­ed States, immi­grants make up a large por­tion of the news­pa­per deliv­ery labor force.

I nev­er imag­ined that a few years lat­er I would be sit­ting in a room with a half dozen news­pa­per deliv­ery work­ers who were demand­ing a return to the con­di­tions I had described — because the new Boston Globe deliv­ery com­pa­ny, ACI Media Group of Long Beach Cal­i­for­nia, had sig­nif­i­cant­ly wors­ened their work­ing situation. 

In Lynn, Mass­a­chu­setts, work­ers found sig­nif­i­cant labor and com­mu­ni­ty sup­port for their demands as mem­bers of the Lynn Work­er Cen­ter, the North Shore Labor Coun­cil, the New Lynn Coali­tion, IUE-CWA Local 201, the Lynn City Coun­cil and the Lynn School Com­mit­tee vowed to sup­port their struggle.

Under the old sys­tem, work­ers (clas­si­fied as inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors) for PCF (Pub­lish­ers Cir­cu­la­tion Ful­fill­ment) drove to a dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­ter in Lynn where they fold­ed and bagged the Globe, the New York Times, the Wall Street Jour­nal and var­i­ous sup­ple­ments. From there they fanned out around the North Shore, fol­low­ing estab­lished deliv­ery routes and dis­trib­ut­ing the cor­rect paper or papers to each sub­scriber by sev­en in the morn­ing. Until about five years ago, the com­pa­ny offered bonus­es of $500 to work­ers who man­aged to fin­ish the win­ter sea­son with a min­i­mum num­ber of sub­scriber com­plaints. After a 2008 law­suit, it imple­ment­ed a sys­tem of acci­dent insur­ance for work­ers who were injured on the job.

When ACI came in to take over the Globe deliv­ery, the old inten­sive routes were bro­ken up. The acci­dent insur­ance dis­ap­peared. Now that work­ers have only one paper to deliv­er, the routes are sig­nif­i­cant­ly longer, which means more dri­ving and more gas. Many work­ers lost their jobs, and those who were kept on by PCF are also faced with longer routes to deliv­er the same num­ber of papers, because of the Globes deci­sion.

ACI also low­ered the pay rate per paper deliv­ered (which under PCF var­ied from six­teen to twen­ty cents for the dai­ly paper and thir­ty to fifty for the Sun­day paper, depend­ing on the route, with extra for inserts) down to 12 cents per unit. More­over, ACI con­sol­i­dat­ed the dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem, so Lynn and oth­er North Shore work­ers now have to dri­ve to Woburn to col­lect their papers. At the old dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­ter in Lynn, they fold­ed and bagged their papers inside the facil­i­ty, with plen­ty of light, tables, and access to bath­rooms. In Woburn, they are forced to do it out­doors in the icy dark­ness, or awk­ward­ly inside their cars.

Thou­sands of Globe sub­scribers are jus­ti­fi­ably out­raged that they have not had a paper deliv­ered since Decem­ber 28, that the paper’s cus­tomer ser­vice sys­tem has been as impos­si­ble to access as the paper itself, and that the management’s pub­lic response has been either cel­e­bra­to­ry or tepid. I have also been supreme­ly frus­trat­ed with the Globes and oth­er media cov­er­age of the deba­cle. Reporters puz­zled over the most basic ques­tions, appar­ent­ly unable to find or ask a worker.

When Globe reporters and staff mobi­lized to deliv­er the paper them­selves on the first Sun­day after the cri­sis began, local and nation­al media respond­ed as if they were heroes for spend­ing a few hours car­ry­ing out a task that poor and immi­grant work­ers do invis­i­bly, dai­ly. Final­ly, many days into the sto­ry, a cou­ple of news arti­cles acknowl­edged what should have been the cen­tral sto­ry from the begin­ning: that this was a labor issue. If ACI lit­er­al­ly can’t find work­ers will­ing to cov­er their routes, wouldn’t look­ing at work­ing con­di­tions be a log­i­cal place to start inves­ti­gat­ing a story?

This post appeared orig­i­nal­ly on the Bea­con Broad­side.

Avi­va Chom­sky is pro­fes­sor of his­to­ry and coor­di­na­tor of Latin Amer­i­can Stud­ies at Salem State Col­lege. The author of sev­er­al books, Chom­sky has been active in Latin Amer­i­can sol­i­dar­i­ty and immi­grants’ rights issues for over twen­ty-five years. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts.
Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH