Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Unionized Paper Carriers a Nightmare on Elm St.?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Unionized Paper Carriers a Nightmare on Elm St.?

Article excerpt

Concept is more likely a pipe dream, say industry reps in advance of appeal of NLRB's ruling on employment status

Besides hauling newspapers, will carriers be carrying the union label? Newspapers, chains, and industry associations take their first step this Friday to overturn a decision by an administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that contradicts nearly two decades of case law by declaring that carriers are newspaper employees - - and not indepen- dent contractors. Distribution is "an integral part" of the newspaper business, the judge ruled.

"This could lead to the organizing of hundreds of thousands of carriers nationwide," said Thomas J. McGrath, director of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters' Newspaper, Magazine, and Electronic Media Workers division.

Independent-contractor status makes newspaper carriers ineligible for union membership, as well as workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, and disability pay.

In his decision, Administrative Law Judge Albert A. Metz disputed a key contention of newspapers for decades: that they are in the business of gathering news and manufacturing newspapers -- not delivering copies of the paper. Metz's opinion came in a dispute involving Teamsters Local 460, which is trying to organize nearly 400 carriers at the 39,772- circulation St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press. The newspaper is appealing the decision to the full NLRB.

Headed by Chairman Peter J. Hurtgen, the five-member NLRB has two vacant seats. Like Hurtgen, Wilma B. Liebman and Dennis P. Walsh were appointed to the board by former President Clinton.

Eric Geist, national organizer for The Newspaper Guild, a sector of Communications Workers of America (CWA), said there clearly is union interest among carriers: "Newspaper carriers are among the worst-treated workers in the country. …

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