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Wade’s crusade could make your paper arrive late

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A state lawmaker’s personal grudge against the newspaper industry could end up hurting workers and delaying delivery for early risers.

Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, filed a March 28 bill that would classify newspaper carriers as employees rather than independent contractors. Her legislation failed to advance, but Wade succeeded in modifying House Bill 205, which sought to extend workers’ compensation benefits to certain inmates, to include her provision for delivery personnel.

Wade said her bill was “partially inspired” by “Contract to Cheat,” a five-part series exposing employee misclassification in the construction industry published in the News & Observer of Raleigh.

The 2014 investigative report zeroed in on construction firms that gave contract workers the equivalent of full-time hours, shorted them on pay and overtime wages and left them in the lurch when they suffered on-the-job injuries, since the companies did not pay for workers’ compensation insurance.

Those stark conditions have nothing in common with the role of newspaper carriers, who are a textbook example of independent contractors.

Carriers are paid for each paper they deliver, using their personal vehicles and applying their own methods, strategies and pace to complete their task. On average, a route can be completed in a few pre-dawn hours.

It’s an ideal arrangement for retirees, students and shift workers who want to earn extra income. In many markets, carriers have contracts to deliver multiple newspapers. It’s important work, but it simply doesn’t fit the normal criteria for a full-time or part-time job. Tasks like newspaper delivery are the very reason the independent contractor designation exists in employment law.

Senator Wade says carriers should be classified as regular employees, requiring newspapers to foot the bill for workers’ comp and unemployment insurance and collect payroll taxes for the federal and state government.

Unfortunately, her committee substitute for HB 205 passed the Senate in a 29-14 vote on Monday. The bill now returns to the House, which will review changes made during Senate approval.

Wade isn’t simply uninformed or misguided on newspaper carriers’ job description. She’s a shrewd politician with an ax to grind against the free and independent press. For several years, she’s spearheaded bills to take public notices out of newspapers and allow city and county governments to hide them on little-used websites.

If Wade’s amendment is signed into law, papers will be forced to consider changes to home delivery service. Dozens of contract carriers could be replaced with a handful of employees, meaning routes would be combined and fewer folks would get their paper on time. Subscription rates may increase as newspapers struggle to absorb the government mandate’s cost.

Newspaper subscribers are a literate, well-educated and articulate bunch. When deliveries are missed or papers don’t show up on time, our phones ring off the hook.

Since Wade is doing her level best to interfere with the timely delivery of your paper, perhaps her phone should be ringing, too. Call her legislative office at 919-733-5856 and let the senator know how you feel about big government getting in the way of your breakfast-table reading.