Reporters and editors aren’t the only workers threatened by profit hungry newspaper executives. One bill in the Insurance Committee proposes to eliminate unemployment benefits for newspaper carriers. The publishers argue these blue collar workers- who often rise at 3 a.m. to deliver the paper- are independent contractors and shouldn’t be allowed individual hearings to prove otherwise. Should our modern paper-men and women be allowed their day in court?Department of Labor’s John McCarthy: Don’t take due process from workers.
Connecticut unemployment law doesn’t exclude any workers beyond what is mandated by the feds, according to John McCarthy, the state Department of Labor’s legislative liaison. That means almost any worker who loses their job is entitled to a hearing, McCarthy said. If that worker can prove earnings, employment status and that they were not terminated for willful misconduct, they may be eligible for benefits. “We don’t believe in writing anybody out,” McCarthy said. But that also does not mean an individual newspaper carrier is guaranteed benefits.“For us, we don’t want to say, ‘You’re out,” McCarthy said. “We want to say, ‘You have a chance to have your day at a hearing, and if the employer wins, then they win.‘“The proposed bill would automatically exclude newspaper carriers from the scheme, so they wouldn’t be allowed a hearing to prove their employment status. Newspaper publishers argue carriers are already defined as independent contractors by the IRS, and should be treated like other professions paid by output, like salesmen, said Kevin Crosbie, publisher of the Willimantic Chronicle.“Years ago most newspapers were delivered by kids who bought and sold their paper routes from one another,” Crosbie said in prefiled testimony. “Today, delivering newspapers is a popular second source of income for adults, especially single parents, seniors and college students.“Because Chronicle delivery people pay a wholesale rate for the papers they sell and are free to deliver newspapers besides the Chronicle, then that makes them independent contractors, Crosbie said. But McCarthy said some carriers work solely for one newspaper and do not deliver other goods.Furthermore, a DOL advisory board comprised of both labor and business representatives- including the Connecticut Business and Industry Association- issued a report that unanimously recommended the law be kept as is, because some workers have been able to prove that they are not independent contractors. “The newspaper industry would like to reduce its costs by not having to make quarterly unemployment insurance contributions for these workers, and federal law would permit Connecticut to enact an exemption from coverage for all newspaper distributors,” the report said. “However, the Board does not believe there is a compelling reason to deny workers employed in newspaper distribution coverage under Connecticut’s unemployment compensation system. Many of these jobs are performed by low income workers who need the protection of unemployment insurance to the same extent as other categories of workers.“This bill is not new- it has been introduced in the left-leaning Labor Committee in previous years but never received a vote, due to strident opposition from state Sen. Edith Prague (D-Columbia), the Labor Committee co-chairwoman. By introducing the bill in the conservative Insurance Committee, newspaper publishers are clearly hoping it will pass at least one committee and gain some momentum.Still, the bill will likely have to return to the Labor Committee at some point. “I hope so,” Prague said, with a wide grin.Will the bill ever make it out of the Labor Committee?“No,” Prague said.