CORPORATE FOCUS: Black and White and Red All Over
Let's say you are a newspaper boy, or girl. You are riding your bicycle up and down the street delivering newspapers. A car runs hits your bike, you fall and suffer severe injuries.Who pays your medical bill?Well, most likely, you are not covered under your state's workers' compensation law, even though you are a worker.This is a real issue for the hundreds of thousands newspaper carriers, the vast majority of whom are young teenagers.Between 1992 and 1997, 99 news vendors were killed on the job, eleven of them under the age of 18. A 1994 Newspaper Association of America survey found there were about 450,000 child and adult carriers in the United States and that only 5.9 percent of carriers were covered by workers' compensation.The reason newspaper carriers are not covered by workers' comp is simple enough: in a decades-long campaign, the newspaper industry has successfully sought to exclude newspaper carriers from workers' comp laws, minimum wage laws, workers' safety laws, right up to and including social security laws. They have done this by pressuring legislatures to write newspaper carriers out of these laws designed to protect workers.Earlier this year, the newspaper industry's dirty little secret was exposed by University of Iowa Professor Marc Linder. ["What's Black and White and Red All Over? The Blood Tax On Newspapers -- or, How Publishers Exclude Newscarriers from Workers' Compensation," (3 Loyola Poverty Law Journal 57 August 1998)].Linder sent this law review article to reporters and columnists around the country -- reporters who had covered his research in the past.But on this very hot labor issue dear to the hearts of newspaper industry, Linder was given the cold shoulder."I have been told directly by various reporters and columnists that they would never get it past their editors and they don't want to waste their journalistic, political capital on this matter because it is not going to get published anyway and they don't want to struggle with their editors over it," Linder told us recently.One reporter proved the exception: Associated Press workplace reporter Maggie Jackson. Last year, Jackson had written about Linder's pathbreaking study about how corporations were infringing on basic worker rights, such as the right to use the bathroom. [Void Where Prohibited: Rest Breaks and the Right to Urinate on Company Time, by Marc Linder and Ingrid Nygaard, (Cornell University Press, 1998)]. Jackson's story on the right to urinate went out on the AP wire and was published in newspapers around the world.Jackson interviewed Linder and others about the newspaper delivery-workers' comp issue, and wrote the story. She assumed that her bosses at the Associated Press, a cooperative of newspaper companies, would run it.Instead, in a brazen act of censorship, her bosses killed it.Jackson confirmed to us that the story was "spiked," as she put it, but she would not answer questions as to why.Linder too does not know why."I can only speculate that either the people who killed it have so internalized the thought patterns of the publishers who cooperatively own the AP that they know on their own that this is not a subject that would redound to the benefit of the cooperative owners," Linder said. "Or someone from the publishers' side caught wind of the story, called them and killed it. This latter point is total speculation on my part. I don't know that, but I can imagine it."When asked about the workers' comp problem, newspaper industry executives argue that since carriers are independent contractors and not employees, the carriers must assume the risks."Almost uniformly, their response was mechanical -- the children are independent contractors and not our problem," Linder said. "This is the mantra the newspapers have been chanting for decades."In his research, Linder found that some newspaper executives understand the problem and want to do something about it."I know that the managers of the St. Petersburg Times say that they treat all of their delivery people as employees and they cover them with workers' compensation," Linder said. "The circulation manager at the Columbus Dispatch is very concerned about the children and he personally got the owner of the newspaper to treat all of the children as employees and to cover them with workers' compensation. The Dispatch is independently owned and that is one reason they are able to do it."Industry executives ought to do the right thing and follow the lead of their brethren at the Columbus and St. Petersburg papers and attack this problem head on. It can't cost them all that much money to fold their child laborers into workers' comp programs. And with the ever-expanding news outlets on the internet, they can't expect to bury this story for long.Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Multinational Monitor.