Newspaper delivery woman fired over holiday note
Getting canned before Christmas was the last thing Laura Parker was worrying about when she slipped a holiday note into the plastic bag along with the Enterprise-Record newspapers she was getting ready to deliver. She’d been at the game for 19 years, and nearly every one of those included this same practice—thank her customers personally and maybe get a card (often with a tip) in return.
This year was different. This year, on Dec. 5, a few days after her Christmas letter went out, she awoke to find an envelope had been delivered to her door, left with her roommate. Inside was her termination notice, effective immediately.
In a single sentence, repeated three times for her three routes, she was told that “In accordance with paragraph 17 … we are exercising our right to terminate this agreement.” No explanation was given as to why Parker was being fired, so she called to find out.
“You were terminated because of the letter,” one of her district managers told her via voicemail.
But newspaper carriers commonly include holiday cards or notes in their papers this time of year. The CN&R received one. So did CN&R employees who subscribe to the paper at home. It’s a nice way to make a human connection with the paper that arrives on your doorstep in the wee morning hours.
The E-R’s independent contractor distribution agreement does stipulate that carriers are not to “stamp upon, attach to, or insert into any newspapers, any advertising, notices or other document not furnished or approved by the Company.” In the past, however, when Parker showed her letter to district managers, they were easily approved.
“I didn’t think it was any big deal,” she said, because nobody ever made a big deal about it before.
Circulation Director Jay Gillespie was on vacation when we attempted to contact him. We were routed to a woman named Jeanette in the Circulation Department, who said the company had no comment on Parker’s firing or on company policy regarding holiday cards.
When Parker was hired, the jobs of delivering newspapers and billing customers for subscriptions were combined. So, the way it worked was, as an independent contractor, Parker would purchase the newspapers from the Enterprise-Record and then resell them to the customers. Her “cut” equaled 10 cents a paper for the residences deemed “in town” and 15 cents for those in the rural areas. Her routes—she had three of them—took her north of town, up Highway 99 and out to Keefer Road. If she wanted to take a vacation or a sick day, she had to arrange for her own replacement.
“I never missed work. I went to work with the flu, with pneumonia,” Parker said. “My mother died, my father died, my sister died, and I didn’t take any days off.”
In more recent years, delivering the papers and billing were separated, but those who already were doing both continued to do so. Parker said there were just three carriers who still did their own billing—and even that was scheduled to end on the first of the year, when all the billing would be handled by the accounts payable department
What Parker can’t understand is, with a transition already scheduled for the end of December, why not give her 30-days’ notice, let her work through the holidays and get her tips—which often equal more than $1,000—and also let her train a replacement to ease the burden on the customers as well as herself.
“I’ve gotten cards from customers saying how sorry they are I lost my job,” she said. She made an effort to alert people, and the E-R sent out notices to residents on at least one of her routes to let them know whom to pay. “Some of them have told me they’re not getting their paper until 3 in the afternoon—I always got the papers out on time.”
She speculated that they took the opportunity to fire her so they could hire less-experienced drivers and pay them less.
What perhaps hurts the most in all this is that, after 19 years of delivering papers for the E-R, Parker has little to show for it. The money she made was enough to get by but not enough to save much—so she’s now worried she won’t be able to finish payments on her mobile home. And to be fired by letter, with no explanation, over something she’d done every year without repercussion—and right before Christmas, of all times—was flabbergasting. She’s currently pursuing legal advice.
“The way they terminated me was just mean,” she said. “It was really unprofessional.”