Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

A tough winter for newspaper carriers

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Greg Peck
Friday, February 7, 2014

I don't envy those who spend most of their workdays outdoors in a winter like this. Include those fixing water main breaks and mail carriers among them.

Newspaper carriers have their challenges, as well. In the city, they often have to trudge with heavy loads along icy and snow-covered sidewalks. In the country, they battle slippery roads and blowing snow.

The Gazette's twice-weekly Sound Off feature has gotten frequent calls criticizing our newspaper carriers. Sure, sometimes equipment problems at The Gazette's printing plant delay deliveries. But bad weather also has led to delays. Heck, my own carrier rides a bicycle whenever he can, throughout winter. I see his predawn tracks leading up to our front stoop when snow has fallen overnight.

Keep in mind that these newspaper carriers aren't Gazette employees. Instead, they're independent contractors. You can liken the arrangement to when you hire a plumber to come and fix your frozen pipes.

Newspaper carrier Dave Salas has grown tired of the criticisms and responded in a letter The Gazette printed a week ago.

“I would like to invite a customer who has a complaint with their Gazette service to ride with me on my route,” he wrote, in part. “I take my job seriously and am willing to try and get someone to understand what I do seven days a week, then write a letter to the editor and tell everyone else what they learned.”

Salas said the person need not be his own customer. Because no one had taken him up on his offer as of Thursday, I asked him to instead answer my questions and share insight for my blog.

Q: How many papers do you deliver each day? How many does that make in an average year?

A: Currently I deliver 330 papers Monday through Saturday and 370 papers on Sunday. About 122,000 papers annually (does not include 350 Marketplaces I deliver weekly). That is down since the (GM) plant closed, when I delivered from 410 to 500 papers a day.

Q: How many years have you been a carrier for The Gazette?

A: 25 years.

Q: What time to you start on a weekday and on a weekend, and when do you finish?

A: Monday through Saturday mornings I receive my papers anywhere from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m., and it takes around three hours to complete the night. Whereas Sunday mornings I get my papers from 1:15 a.m. to 3 a.m., depending on the size of the paper. I get done three and a half to four hours later, if the roads are good.

Q: How much are you paid?

A: I am paid by the paper (piece rate), and each route is different. Let's just say that I make about 120 percent of federal poverty level before taxes.

Q: What else do you do for work?

A: I don't have another job. Years ago I tried to work a full-time job along with this but was unable to juggle the hours and keep the other job happy.

Q: What are some of the key problems you've run into this winter due to inclement weather?

A: Not just this winter, every winter. I do two routes at this time—one is a motor route on the east side of town—and have some really great folks as customers. However, I don't think many realize how extremely difficult it is make my deliveries when snow and ice have not been cleared from the curb and gutter (all the way to the pavement) in the area I have to pull up to.

Getting stuck delays delivery, is very hard on my car and wastes fuel. When snow packs down at the curb, the car tips up on the right side, sometimes as much as 25 degrees. This puts most of the weight of the car and papers on the left side suspension, damaging it. It also makes the delivery tube very, very hard to reach, if not impossible.

Also, cleaning snow from inside the delivery tubes that the plows (and snowblowers) have deposited there. I can't reach far enough to do it myself. In the event that I have to exit my car to make a delivery, it would be nice if salt is used in the area I have to walk. Safety is a very major issue.

Q: What happens/who does your route when you get sick or want to take an out-of-town trip?

A: I am an independent contractor. In the event I am so ill I can't work, or injured to that point or want to have a few days off, I am required to supply a sub to do my route. I have been injured a few times where I could not work and sick once. I've never taken a vacation. (I must say that the company has been understanding on this issue).

Q: What is your favorite part of this role?

A: The fact that I go, do my job, and go home.

Q: What is your least favorite part?

A: The injuries. I have had some very serious ones. Also, the constant concern that my car will break down.

Q: What unusual or quirky situations, if any, have you run into?

A: Well, I have, on three separate occasions, had to call the authorities after finding deceased customers.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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