Diary

The recent merger of Honolulu’s two daily newspapers has seen ramifications surface in all arenas–including, inconspicuously but not surprisingly, that of newspaper delivery. And like speculation about Hawaii’s ensuing news environment–many agree that the lack of some healthy daily news competition could be the bane of local news quality–the future for news delivery people here isn’t looking so bright.

Starting June 7–the day the Honolulu Star-Advertiser began publication–newspaper deliverers were forced to withdraw from the local International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and sign on with independent contractors. Working under independent management (an arrangement that stipulates that managers acquire a general excise license) means no health insurance benefits, no allowances for gas or packaging supplies and a cheaper pay. The deliverers also have to deliver approximately 30 to 40 more papers per route to compensate for the merge, and managers have to work two extra, unpaid hours to deal with complaints, according to a town delivery person who wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job.

“Before, it was worth our while,” he said. “But it has become so bad that you can’t even make a living.”

According to the town delivery person, most delivery people–many of whom had worked as newspaper deliverers for more than 20 years–quit in anticipation of the merger simply because the updated job description looked too grim.

“All of a sudden, the [merger] happened, and they lost everything,” he said.

Even so, he says that some of them, like himself, have been forced to cope with such grave pay devaluation and degraded working conditions because of market conditions that have virtually obligated them to stay on the job.

“It’s a sad situation,” said Dave Mori, Oahu division director at the ILWU, the union representing the former Advertiser’s delivery people, “given the fact that the district managers were the best qualified people to do the job. But in the interest of wanting to make a bigger profit, they decided to use subcontractors.” Mori points out that the subcontractors, 15 of whom were hired from the original pool of 64 delivery managers, no longer enjoy medical insurance, sick leave or other benefits.

“If we don’t do [our job], or if we say something, they just get rid of us and find somebody else because we are on the bottom of the totem poll,” he said. “We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, and we can’t go up there and tell them anything. They’re not going to listen to us. We’re just peons.”

To top all that off, newspaper delivery people have to put up with ill-defined gratuity protocol–according to the town delivery person, administrators do not provide documentation for the tips that subscribers allot in their subscription checks–and the fact that they still haven’t been paid for their two-weeks of work prior to June 7.

“Before, we were really strong…with the union and everything else,” he said. “But now, it’s independent, there’s nothing. Now, they’re screwing everybody.”