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January 11, 2016

It’s mighty dangerous to predict the most overblown story of the Boston news year in January.  Nonetheless, I am on record offering The Boston Globe delivery debacle as the winner.  The whole thing struck me as a deeply insider game where longtime media critics of The Globe with real and imagined scores to settle gleefully used the story to pile on.  Sure I too missed my Sunday paper but the absence was only telling for how it punctuated how predictably good service is.  Wake up, paper is there.  One is hard pressed to think of another item in a dying medium that generally performs so well 365 days a year.  I’m looking at you Comcast. 

The voluminous Globe delivery woe story thus exuded a certain privilege.  Privilege born of good jobs and corresponding expectations and leisure.  Subscribers to the print edition are older and, on average, of higher socio-economic status.  Not having a morning paper is annoying for sure but if a similar inconvenience befalls Boston’s poor regarding a luxury item – and make no mistake, home delivery is a luxury with recognized positive externalities -- the cascade of stories simply would not follow.  Rather, it’s more likely the headlines would be “if they are poor, why are they buying X?!?” Moral outrage! Prioritize! Get your priorities right!

And the “reporter’s deliver!” takes also struck the wrong note.  These reporters were undoubtedly trying to recover subscriber confidence with an all hands are on deck approach.  But, on another level, the coverage of them delivering is wildly classist. It’s akin to the high school student who wants into the Ivy League and leverages the fact s/he worked at a soup kitchen for a few days but never asked why the soup kitchen has to exist.  The story only "works" because the reporters are toiling out of context – or, more boldly, now working beneath them. The structural questions about labor – and not the local media industry – were missed.

But then a funny thing happened.  Sh*t started to get real.  On January 6, Marcela García wrote a Globe op-ed noting the strong presence of immigrant laborers among those who deliver the paper.  Yesterday’s Boston Globe (delivered to my front stoop despite driving rain) went into more detail on what exactly it is like to be one of the largely unrecognized, unprotected workers who deliver the Boston Globe and other regional papers. 

Delivery professionals labor when most of us get to sleep.  The vast majority do so as “independent contractors” without the labor protections and bargaining power that comes from being directly hired by the distributor.  Shifts regularly begin at 2am, wage rates are low, there are no paid vacations, and any day off requires the worker to find coverage.  As Michael Levenson made clear, all this means “no guaranteed health insurance or a minimum wage.” 

The shift in Globe distributors and specifics on the partial rehire will not change this. In fact, for the low-wage workers who pedal our papers and make our mornings more intelligent, bad conditions will remain bad or worse. 

This is the true Globe debacle. 

The new distributor will not be hiring the vast majority of workers as employees.  There is no reported talk of paid sick leave, earned vacation, or the ability to take time and have the company find a temporary replacement.  The Globe and others outlets report the new distributor is offering some signing bonuses and a very modest increase in per paper wages but that the individuals who get the paper to residences must also cover more distance. 

My first book was based on a year of field work in a low-wage service hotel.  I worked hotel room service and saw how these individuals work multiple jobs to make ends meet as well as the insecurity, stress, anxiety, coping, and bone-tiredness that comes from being forced to sell your labor for unfair wages in physically punishing jobs.  THIS is the price of our delivery.  And this professor, Globe reporters, the local media who’s who, and most home delivery subscribers have the privilege of not enduring it.

Subscribers will get service restored as our privilege demands it.  The real story then is how, if at all, The Globe delivery debacle alters the lives of those who get our paper to us with such astounding regularity.  John Henry just spent 217 million on David Price’s arm.  Surely, he has the money and mojo to demand those who deliver his prized paper enjoy basic labor protections. Fellow Boston Globe subscribers, guaranteeing this is the continuous coverage we need.   

mapoil, Bospoli, fair labor, Boston Globe, low-wage service workers

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