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Newspaper carriers organize.

Last November, twelve-year-old Patrick Shelton and his thirteen-year-old brother Eamon got together with fellow newspaper carriers and filed a class-action complaint against the Providence Journal Company, the largest newspaper publisher in the state.

"Basically we're underpaid, overworked, and being taken advantage of," says Patrick.

The carriers say they received their last substantial pay raise in February 1990. Furthermore, they now must deliver soap, hair spray, and other health and beauty products for only two to five cents per item. The Journal no longer drops off papers at carriers' houses, either. Many carriers must get someone to drive them to their regional circulation centers, sometimes as far as ten miles away, and assemble the papers there themselves for no additional pay. Carriers without family cars lost their routes when the new system went into effect.

Dissatisfaction in the carrier ranks had been festering for years, says Patrick's father Henry Shelton, a local community organizer. But the Journal management finally pushed reluctant carriers over the edge by "strongly requesting" that young carriers sign a one-sided contract written in obfuscating legalese.

When they asked management what would happen if they didn't sign the contract, the carriers say, the Journal threatened to stop selling papers to noncompliant parties.

The Rhode Island Newscarriers Association wants the court to declare that carriers are employees of the Journal and entitled to benefits. If, however, the court rules that carriers are contractors, the Association plans to counter with charges of antitrust violations, including "price-fixing, unfairly competing with newscarriers, and illegally using monopolistic powers."

As the carriers see it, they have nothing to lose. "If they declare us employees, we get employee benefits, like scholarships. If not, they'll start treating us with more respect," says Eamon.

Recently, the Journal Company's lawyers moved to dismiss the case, contending that the plaintiffs had failed to present a clear controversy.

"What we do is very similar to what other newspapers do across the country," says John Palumbo, Director of Promotion and Community Affairs for the Journal. The Journal awards $30,000 in scholarship money to carriers each year, produces a newsletter for their benefit, and hosts an annual recognition banquet in their honor.

But Patrick and Eamon Shelton point out that hundreds of carriers compete for the twelve annual Journal scholarships. In contrast, any Boston Globe carrier who works regularly for four years can qualify for up to $5,000 in tuition assistance.

While Journal management has resisted negotiations, the carriers have organized themselves and are conducting their own meetings. They have even been profiled in Changing Our World: A Handbook for Young Activists by Paul Fleisher.

"We're not going to take it any more," yells fourteen-year-old carrier Gavin Busath from the steps of the Rhode Island Superior Court Building, where the carrier association gathered for a November press conference. "We're basically a bunch of mad carriers," he says. "And we're forming a union. They might say we're crazy but no matter what, we win."
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Title Annotation:Providence, Rhode Island
Author:Bixpa-Vazao, Aldina
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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