Bellingham Herald Carriers Protective Association

As with many kids in Middle School our son Todd wanted a paper route so he could earn some spend money of his own.  So we signed the necessary papers but after five or so months he gave up the route as he was spending the collection money rather than turning it in and ran up a large debt.

David (our Downs son) wanted to take over the route but I felt he could not handle it as Todd had over 50 customers and adding or subtracting numbers was beyond David’s ability.  David insisted so I said he could take half the route and see if he could handle it.  On pay day his customers would have to write him a check or, if they gave him cash, had to put it in an envelope that he provided whereon they put their name and address.  Then I took David on a ‘dry run’ showing him all the houses that got a paper and where he was to put it.  At the end of the ‘dry run’ I asked David if he could remember all that and to my astonishment he ran through the entire list and told me where he was to put the paper — by memory!  I was astonished and decided he could take over the entire route.

David was a hit!  The customers loved him.  David got up by himself at 5 a.m., in rain and shine and snow and did his route.  Since he could not do numbers I took care of the bookkeeping and that is when I go suspicious of the way the Bellingham Herald handled the carriers.

If a person dropped their subscription David had a day in which to notify the Herald otherwise they would still continue the same number of copies in the ‘drop’.  Sometimes the subscriber would discontinue their subscription directly with the Herald and David did not know and kept putting a copy of the paper on their doorstep for which he was charged.  To get a refund for these ‘over drops’ was all but impossible.   Since the carriers collected their money from the customers after the fact the carriers that had WWU students as subscribers faced the shock of having their clients move from town and never tell either the Herald or the carrier they were moving leaving the carrier with one hell of a debt.  Since the carriers were considered “independent businessmen” they (their parents) were legally responsible for these debts.  I discussed this issue with other parents of carriers and former carriers.

To my shock I found that the Herald was using the small claims court to collect debts these kids owed the Herald.  I went to the small claims court and found that the Herald was one of the largest users of that court to get their money and, on occasions, took a family car or garnished the wages of the parents to collect the debt.

I sought to do some research in the library on the institution of the ‘paper boy’ and found not a single research article, only simple descriptions of the paper boy as an American institution.  But NO research!  Not a single article.  No historical review of the role of the paper boy in the development of the local newspapers in the United States could be located.  Paperboys (later, paper carriers) were purposely left out of the protection of child labor laws in the US and in local communities throughout the nation.

On enquiry I found that the Herald would, on occasion, send their recruiters to meet the berry buses bringing kids back from the berry fields and signing them up to serve as paper carriers without providing any training for them or the most minimum training possible.

Over a period of several months I made the acquaintance of other parents of carriers who were upset at the way the Herald was treating them.  Several told me they tried to discuss the matter with the Editor of the Herald but usually could not get an appointment and were shuffled off to some lower management personnel who did not give them any satisfaction to their complaints.  I also tried to discuss the matter with Chuck Wanniger, Managing Editor of the Bellingham Herald but he refused to meet me.  So a group of us parents created an informal organization called “The Bellingham Herald Carriers Protective Association.”  Wanniger refused to meet with us as representatives of our newly formed organization so we decided to mount a protest in front of the Herald building.

As I recall we had four parents and four carriers in front of the Bellingham Herald building one evening.  Two of the parents were professionals (self and manager of a major local industry) and two were welfare parents.  Bill Quehrn, reporter for the local radio station KGMI was informed of the protest and appeared on the scene with a mobile unit.  He set up the transmitter and went live on the station:  “Ladies and Gentlemen we interrupt this broadcast to bring to you live a protest of parents of carriers and several carriers being carried out in front of the Bellingham Herald building.  Dr. Drake will you please tell our listeners why you are here?”    It wasn’t too long into the interview when Chuck Wanniger pulled his car to a screeching halt in front of the Herald Building, rushed into it and barricaded the front door with large timbers, as though we had plans to bomb the building!

The next day I and one of the more articulate carriers appeared on Bill Quhern’s morning talk show where listeners could call in their questions or comments.  One listener commented “These kids are supposed to be little business men and learn about how to make money in this economy.  As part of their learning they should learn getting screwed by the bigger guys in the business.  It’s all about learning how to do business in America.”  While on the air we announced that the Bellingham Herald Carriers Protective Association was planning a meeting at the First Congregational Church at a certain time and invited anyone who wanted to be part of the discussion to attend.  Much to our consternation in a car parked in front of the church was the Herald Comptroller with field glasses noting who attended the meeting.

We were aware that the Herald had a number of cases before the Small Claims Court the following week so we decided to show up in support of the carriers and their parents who were being charged by the Herald.  Through the publicity that we garnered by being on the radio a former Herald Carrier Supervisor joined our group.  He told us of how he was ordered not to acknowledge all the over drop refund requests, only a limited number of them.  He was willing to say this in court which he did.

When Judge Les Lee heard the testimony of the carriers of how they were treated and then the testimony of the Carrier Supervisor he was outraged and actually scolded the representative of the Herald stating “If I ever see you here in court again I will see to it that charges are filed against the Bellingham Herald.  Now get out of here and don’t come back!”

This was enough to cause the Herald to change some of the ways they treated the carriers and the Herald Carriers Protective Association never met again.