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the pizza man's union
why i'm doing what i'm doing
by tim lockwood
12.10.04
news

You may have read the story recently when it came out on the AP wire, and appeared in damn near every newspaper in the country. Lots of folks did, I know that much. If you were one of those who didn't read it, please do so now and come right back.

Anyway, many pizza delivery drivers who previously didn't know about us have visited the union's website (if you like, you may check it out here), where we have a message board set up. And just like any other website that suddenly gets media attention, we've also managed to attract a few loonies. In our case, we got a few folks who have purchased the whole conservative package at a discount - "If you buy the war in Iraq, you gotta have the pro-business belief system! After all, nothing says America like the kind benevolence of the free market!"

One of the things these characters say that really bugs me more than anything, that I keep having to refute, is the following sentiment - "This union is just like the rest - they're only in it to enrich themselves and the people at the top of the union food chain."

It galls me that people assume they can just make these blanket statements about me and my fellow union officers when they know nothing about us. Somehow, because we have a nice-looking website (which incidentally we designed ourselves in our spare time), they probably assume that we're a bunch of slick-talking suits looking to rake in some big bucks from dues and contributions.

What they don't realize is that none of the officers have personally collected a dime from this effort, and probably won't before our terms are up in April of '05. In my case, I will feel blessed if our humble little household clears $35,000 this year, with both of us working - me at my delivery job, my wife at her new part-time retail job. We have a mortgage payment of over $1,000, a car note of about $220, and an equity line payment of about $140.

We must economize, warrior fashion; I will be disconnecting the landline soon and relying solely on our cell phone service, which ought to save us about $55 a month. We have been trading baby-sitting services with a co-worker of mine, which will save our household another $240 to $300 a month and still ensure that my beautiful ten-week-old daughter has someplace safe to be while we work. We are also shopping at the local Aldi's rather than a regular grocery store. There are other, smaller measures as well. Every penny adds up; it must - it absolutely has to.

So it's pretty clear, I'm not getting rich at this unionization bit. Surely I can come up with something more profitable to do with my time. So why do I bother? Two reasons.

My first reason is the union's first reason. There was a fellow back in 2002 by the name of Barry Schrader, who delivered pizza in Huntsville, Alabama for a company by the name of Papa John's. Like a lot of drivers do, Barry did his delivering in an old beater - in his case, a 1986 Mazda. Barry took a late evening delivery to an apartment that, as it later turned out, was vacant. He was jumped, beaten and left for dead on the sidewalk by three teenagers well before he reached the apartment door. He was never given a chance to turn over any money, which all his co-workers later swore he would have done. The teenagers wanted his sixteen-year-old car because one of them wanted to get out of town due to an outstanding warrant in another incident.

No one knows how long Barry lived after the beating, because his body was not discovered until nearly two hours later. Some accounts say his absence was noticed only when a customer who was next on Barry's route called the pizza place to find out what happened to her order. Enforced callback procedures, proper training, and a cell phone could have saved his life. None of these things are available at most pizza places, and as long as no one pressures the pizza companies to do something about it, they never will be. That's why it's the fifth deadliest occupation in America, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Barry Schrader, who lived a quiet, unassuming life in nearby Taft, Tennessee, was fifty-seven years old.

My second reason for tilting at this particular windmill - my personal and selfish reason - is my daughter. She is the absolute light of my life, and I want to raise her as best I can. I truly believe that one must set the example for one's children; that I must be the type of person I expect her to be.

I hope she learns that all people have dignity, and that it is wrong to treat any class of people as being less worthy of respect just because of what they do for a living. I hope that she learns it not just from the way I treat others, but also from my example of holding myself with dignity in any situation, even if I am mocked for being "an overgrown loser in a kid's job" (yes, I've heard that one before).

I hope she learns that it's sometimes not enough just to gripe about something; she must stand up and do what's right, even if others put her down or tell her she's wasting her time. On a similar note, she ought to learn that she should not give up when she suffers a setback in her efforts, but to learn from her mistakes and adopt a new strategy to achieve her goals.

Finally, I hope she learns that the highest calling on this earthly plane is to help others. No man is an island, the saying goes, and not only is it true, but this planet can't afford to have too many more people pretending they are.


ABOUT TIM LOCKWOOD

My life is an open book. A comic book, about a superhero with the amazing ability to make his nose hair grow. Oh, and someone's torn out the order form for the $2.99 X-ray specs.

more about tim lockwood

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COMMENTS

sigbjørn olsen
12.11.04 @ 6:00p

"Eit kvart menneske er ei øy, så det trengst bruer."
- Tarjei Vesaas

This roughly translates to "Every man is an island, which is why we need bridges." I always liked that quote. Even though it's slightly different from your comment that no man is an island I think they say essentially the same thing.

I'm very happy that you seem to be making some progress. I'm fortunate enough to come from a country where for the last 60-80 years the unions have had more clout than employers. And I quite like it.

An employer has a social responsibility towards his workers - the work they are asked to do should not put them in danger, or if it does, it should be spelled out in the open and properly compensated for. Far too often employers conveniently forget that.

Good luck.

tracey kelley
12.12.04 @ 9:53a

Two friends of mine pay over $100 each month in union dues. They work for a large soft-drink company and a utilities company. Profit on these products is substantial, thus their pay rate is a little higher than most, but only after 20 and 10 years of service, respectively, and still not in the "white collar" range.

-Are they rich? No.
-Have they always been protected by the union? No.

So I have some questions for you:

How much does it cost to make a pizza? How can that overhead compensate increasing pay rates for drivers? How much of that increase will go to union dues? While the issue of safety is a primary concern, how else, aside from unionization, can that be addressed?

And also:

Should people delivering papers be unionized? What about people who conduct public research? Or landscapers or general couriers or corporate program travel directors?

I'm not being contrary - just asking questions.

tim lockwood
12.12.04 @ 11:45a

Cost per pizza, counting overhead, can be pretty low - maybe $3.50-$4.50 for a large, depending on toppings and the current price of cheese, the most expensive topping, and the cost of location overhead (rent, equipment, etc.). Labor and delivery costs have been kept low by allowing the public perception of drivers to change from professional to fast-food monkey. I recall a Domino's TV commercial from the '80s where they touted their drivers as being highly trained for delivery. You don't see ads like that any more.

The largest of the pizza delivery chains has paid 50 cents per delivery (not per mile) as "vehicle reimbursement" since at least the '80s in many, if not most of their stores. The only difference is, nowadays the company charges the customer 75 cents per delivery, which cuts deeply into the tips they expect us to receive. The excess does not go to the driver. Pay rates have managed to stay about $1 or so above minimum wage. And just recently, the IRS determined that it costs about 40.5 cents per mile to operate a vehicle in the US.

Essentially, pizza delivery drivers have been subsidizing the cost of doing business out of their own pockets, which is part of the reason turnover in the job is so high - you do the job until the vehicle breaks down and you can't afford to fix it anymore.

The union dues issue is a touchy one at many unions. In our case, the cost of dues would be largely dependent on what the locals decide is fair based on the contract we can negotiate for them, so it is difficult to say how it would affect prices. Ideally, we'd like to see the majority of the dues (at least 50%, preferably 70%) stay at the local level for use as they see fit - for example, public awareness programs, special training classes, that sort of thing.

Safety issues could be easily addressed in any number of ways, which we have addressed on our website. These include the use of a company-owned cellphone (if a driver wants a cellphone for his own safety now, he has to pay for it out of pocket) and better situational-awareness training. The current safety training consists of the following: 1) Make frequent money drops; 2) Don't carry over $20 on delivery; 3) Leave if it "feels funny"; 4) Do what the robber tells you.

Everyone who has read this is now safety trained according to current standards. Would you feel safe doing this job? Of course not, and you shouldn't. This is the fifth-deadliest occupation in the US. Obviously there could be better training than this without unionization if someone would just do it. The problem is, there won't be, because apparently we're the only ones in the industry who care about it.

As to other occupations unionizing, I say they should go for it if they see a set of problems that they can't get management to address. I have heard newspaper delivery people have a hard go of it, and ...

[edited]

tim lockwood
12.12.04 @ 12:00p

I personally have been approached discreetly by a couple customers of mine who work in retail-type environments about unionizing their own shop.

The modern-day corporation can be a monster, and people are starting to feel the need for a line of defense.

robert melos
12.12.04 @ 5:32p

I think unions are a great idea. I do hope it works out for you. As a Realtor, I understand the dangers of going to strange places and sometimes meeting customers for the first time in a dark hallway of a condo complex. Safety is a very big issue. In the example of the man murdered for his car, would a call back or his own cell phone even have worked? The killers could just give a cell phone number as a call back number. And if he were jumped it might not have been possible for him to call for help. The killers could easily steal his cell phone. What other measures can be implimented for safety on the road?

Personally I buy frozen California Pizza Kitchen pizzas at the supermarket. I do get sushi delivered once in a while, but the driver is also the owner's son.



tim lockwood
12.12.04 @ 7:21p

Funny thing about callbacks - they are technically already the policy at every one of the big chains, but they are hardly ever done. They are often seen as a hassle when you're busy, and generally speaking, the big bosses don't get terribly upset if they notice a callback not being performed (that's assuming they even notice).

One store I'm aware of has implemented a unique method of verification of cell numbers. The first time a cell phone user places an order, it has to be for carry-out, not delivery. The number must also be verified by callback, and their information must be verified by an ID check at the time the customer picks it up and marked as such in the computer. The incentive for all this is, that first order is either heavily discounted or free to help make up for the inconvenience. Any subsequent order from that number can be for delivery. This is a standard that needs to be applied everywhere, but no one wants to do it.

The president of APDD has suggested, and normally uses, his own callback system. He calls the customer from his own cellphone when he is a couple minutes away from his destination. It not only gives him the opportunity to assure the customer that the order is on its way, and remind them to turn on a light for him and have their money ready; it also assures him that the customer is actually there. If he doesn't get an answer, or is creeped out by the conversation, he can bypass it even before he gets there.

Another idea I've heard that would be interesting if implemented is using an actual callback from the driver in the field. As the driver arrives at the destination, he calls (or Nextels) the shop and tells them he's arrived. Once he's finished with the transaction, he calls back again and lets them know he's leaving. If he doesn't call back in a reasonable time, they know at the store that something's wrong and the police can be called immediately.

As I mentioned, Barry Schrader was not noticed missing for close to two hours, and that's just insane. Who knows how much of that time he lay there bleeding and badly hurt, but still alive and saveable?

Would any of this have saved Barry Schrader's life? Since we can't roll back the clock and find out, the best I can say is, it would have given him a much better chance.

robert melos
12.12.04 @ 10:21p

The Nextel system of checking in with the base/store is an excellent idea. I know local cab companies that have 15 minute check-ins via their radio systems. Something like that could potentially save lives.

I can see a need for national organization of delivery persons, if for no other reason than safety measures be implimented. Granted some companies may have to update their way of doing business, but communications systems aren't going to break a business. The other benefits of a union, such as insurance/health care, and minimum wages also are admirable goals. The problem I see is the greedy business owner who decided to hike the prices to cover all his "expenses" even when his prices already more than cover expenses and leave a comfortable income.

sigbjørn olsen
12.12.04 @ 11:23p

Kudos to Robert for so concisely pointing out why greed is a terrible way to power the workings of human society.

tracey kelley
12.13.04 @ 10:11a

Ah, but unfortunately, greed is the heart of why something at a pizza restaurant level will be harder to organize than, say, nurses.

The unity lies with the drivers: all it will take is one national chain to make a difference. Lobbying corporate Papa John's or Dominos on the Nextel idea (the strongest idea, I think, as the dispatch system is already in use in so many other professions, and thus is readily able to prove cost, efficiency and safety effectiveness) and establishing test markets would be a stronger foundation for change than just batting the word "union" around.

I don't believe a union is always the answer. Associations and organizations, lobbying and policy establishing, yes, but unions will not work for all professions. Enter into what is normally considered a part-time/additional job environment, and most know the consequences. That doesn't mean change can't happen, especially where safety is involved: however, expecting professional benefits for a part-time/temp job is slightly unrealistic. No one wants to pay $25 for a pizza if they don't have to.

I don't say this lightly - I say this from experience.

Part of the work I do is in public policy research, which involves going out and talking to hundreds of strangers, at night, carrying a $2,000 laptop and often up to $100 in cash. When I go out like this, no one knows exactly where I am, or where I'll be, at any given time, for hours at a time. The safety issue is paramount. In the beginning of each study, when I receive my neighborhood segments, I make copies of every neighborhood map and all addresses, so that my husband has a general idea of where to find my car if I come up missing.

Fortunately, my project leaders also have a general idea where I am. But it's all by location - there are no phone numbers, no names of anyone to contact. Oh - did I mention this workforce consists primarily of women 35-60?

Working in this industry is accepting that is considered "temporary" employment, with no benefits at all. No tips, although we do have mileage reimbursement most of the time, at roughly .37 per. But if we have an accident on company time? Tough. Study ends early? Too bad - you're out of work. Will we unionize? No. We can always find another line of work.

So what I'm saying is I completely relate to the trials and tribulations of your industry - but before it can be assumed that a union will solve everything by strong-arming an industry, study the history of unions in other industries, pick one or two areas of primary concern that can have a greater impact for change, and see what happens from there.

tim lockwood
12.13.04 @ 5:29p

So what I'm saying is I completely relate to the trials and tribulations of your industry - but before it can be assumed that a union will solve everything by strong-arming an industry, study the history of unions in other industries, pick one or two areas of primary concern that can have a greater impact for change, and see what happens from there.

We tried that. Before we were a union, we called ourselves a trade association. Tried making a little noise and drawing attention to the problems. If we were paid attention to at all, we were snickered at. Pizza boys (grr, we all HATE that term) attempting to tell high and mighty CEOs how to run their business? How uppity!

Most of us didn't even want to do the union thing, for that matter. Something to realize is, a large segment, likely the majority, of delivery drivers are (or at least consider themselves) politically conservative. Like a lot of people, we were aware of some of the unsavory history of certain unions, and we were conscious that unions in the wrong hands could bring down an industry. We considered those good reasons to stay away.

The more we investigated, though, the more we discovered that there is a body of law that protects people and asserts basic rights in the workplace, but only for those who unionize. It was a tough decision, and not one we entered into lightly. We were not being listened to, and for the good of the industry and for our own safety we NEED to be listened to. Unionization turned out to be the 2x4 we needed to get the industry's attention.

To this day, we have a saying: "Sooner or later, every pizza shop will get the union it deserves." In other words, if a pizza shop treats its drivers well, they'll probably never hear from us. If not, the drivers will get in touch with us.

This organizing movement didn't start from the top down. This is a true grassroots movement. We have yet to approach drivers in a store about unionizing - they approach us. We have more work on our table right now than we can stand.

We have only created the union that the industry forced on us. If there is blame to be passed out for our existence, it should be placed squarely with the big players in the industry who chose to ignore the problems for so long.

tracey kelley
12.13.04 @ 8:40p

The more we investigated, though, the more we discovered that there is a body of law that protects people and asserts basic rights in the workplace, but only for those who unionize.

Ah. Now that's an important point.

I still don't understand why a test couldn't be conducted on one particular company: focus all attention on that company, be it local w/5 locations or regional, perhaps, in order to have the facts upon which to base the assumptions/needs.

There's no blame being placed (at least, not by me) and there's no doubt in my mind that most of the corporations are negligent on many of these issues. Nevertheless, as long as people keep taking those jobs, under those conditions, change is slow in coming. Yes, I understand, people need to work, and the fight is noble, but nevertheless, cutting out delivery possibilities lessens profit as well.

So I'll pose another question to you: what made you chose this work, and if the conditions are so unfavorable, why do you continue to stay?

[edited]

tim lockwood
12.14.04 @ 11:09a

Nevertheless, as long as people keep taking those jobs, under those conditions, change is slow in coming.

There is currently about a 200% turnover rate. That means that the driver you see on January 1 will be gone by July 1, replaced by someone else; who will in turn have been replaced by January 1 of the following year.

The pizza companies suffer from this turnover rate as much as we do. It is expensive, after all, to start any new employee from scratch; and when you pay what they do, you wind up with any old warm body off the street. It would be a simple correctable matter if there were any interest among the hierarchy in longer term profitability. Instead, there is the same old approach of "what worked yesterday is bound to work tomorrow," without any consideration that the old way is almost played out. You can only cut labor costs so much before you run out of places to cut and the ones feeling the effects of the cuts yell "Enough already!"

We don't see our efforts as taking away from the pizza industry. No one wants pizza delivery to go away, we just want it to be safer and fairer in its reimbursement and pay scales. We believe there is a win-win situation out there.

So I'll pose another question to you: what made you chose this work, and if the conditions are so unfavorable, why do you continue to stay?

I chose the job accidentally, intending for it to be a temporary job while I found "real" work. But I stayed at this work because I enjoy what I do. I'm able to drive from place to place in solitude, free from a supervisor constantly looking over my shoulder, criticizing my work when I already know my work is first rate. I enjoy the challenge of finding new places and new ways to get there. And I enjoy the welcome I get everywhere I go - people are always genuinely glad to see me, which I'm sure is not the case for, say, an accounts auditor.

tracey kelley
12.14.04 @ 11:54a

Heh! That's true! My grandfather delivered milk for 45 years, then flowers throughout his so-called "retirement". He said he loved the look on someone's face when they opened the door, and he was glad he could experience that.

Unfortunately, there are trade-offs to every job. Safety cannot be compromised, but it happens in meat packing plants, too. Is profit the absolute block against change in this area?

tim lockwood
12.14.04 @ 11:07p

Is profit the absolute block against change in this area?

Not profit, so much as flat out greed - I would bet my bottom dollar on it. There is a difference. We want the pizza companies to be profitable, because our livelihood is just as dependent on it as theirs is.

But when a memo like this one happens, then I can guarantee that greed motivates all.

sachmo wellington
2.21.06 @ 5:23p

Tim, it has been two years since this thread was written. Are you or anyone else still talking about a union? I have emailed the APDD and gotten no response. With the advent of the delivery charge we have a monetary basis with which to prove the need for a union. We are now closer than ever to realizing it.

tim lockwood
2.25.06 @ 11:28p

APDD is still very much in existence. However, because of family obligations and other personal considerations which must take precedence in my life, I am no longer officially associated with APDD. I still wholeheartedly back the efforts of APDD, although now I must reluctantly do so from a distance.

I understand there was, at least at one time recently, a glitch in the contact form on the website, and that may have been the cause of the communication problem. I have sent you a couple e-mail addresses in a private message that should get you in touch with someone in the meantime.

juli mccarthy
9.22.06 @ 7:36p

Giant bump - news story on CNN today: http://edition.cnn.com/2006/US/09/22/pizza.union.ap/

jael mchenry
9.25.06 @ 8:38a

Fascinating. So it can be done.

Love these statements from company men like "We're sorry these people chose to give up the right to represent themselves [by unionizing]." But, I guess, what else can they say?



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