A Houston Chronicle newspaper deliveryman is currently recovering from surgery, but Omar Maldonado and his wife say they are also being charged for any mistakes made on the route while they have to be off, and have been told they will lose the newspaper route entirely if they don't come back to work soon.
The Houston Press learned of this when a note from Maldonado arrived with our daily paper on Thursday morning:
"Due to unfortunate circumstances, I will be having surgery to remove a [ventral] hernia today which will require me to be off a couple of days since the Houston Chronicle charges me for being off. I am fighting hard to keep my route although my doctors have suggested I no longer worker [sic]. For any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me anytime."
Maldonado and his wife, Anna, have been newspaper carriers for the Chronicle for about three years, ever since they moved to Houston to be closer to family, Anna told the Press. The couple took the part-time job as another way to supplement their income after Maldonado was diagnosed with lung cancer and had surgery to remove the cancerous lung in 2013 that left him unable to work a full-time job, she says.
They got the gig back in 2013 when a friend told the couple a newspaper route was available. Since then Maldonado and his wife have spent the predawn hours of each day delivering papers to the doorsteps of Chron subscribers along two different routes in the Heights. (The couple has gotten the paper to our doorstep in all kinds of weather without fail, even when there's been flooding.) Once the paper has been delivered, Anna goes to her other part-time job, as a care provider. Between the two paper routes, Maldonado's disability check and her other job, they make enough to live on, she says.
Last week Maldonado went to the doctor because a ventral hernia — a bulge of tissues that pops out of the stomach through an opening in the abdominal wall muscles — he's had for a while was getting larger and had become painful. The doctor told Maldonado he needed to have the hernia corrected through surgery, set up an operation for this Thursday and advised Maldonado that he'll take two to four weeks to heal. "We weren't expecting it. His doctor told us they were going to need to take care of it now and the surgery was set before we left the office," Anna says.
Each of Maldonado's newspaper routes is run by a boss who is given a lump sum by the Chron and who then pays people to deliver papers, Anna says. When Maldonado told the man in charge of the first route that he would have to be off of work for a few days because of the surgery, the boss replied that Maldonado didn't have anything to worry about. "He said that our place was secure; they would cover our route and whenever the doctor says he can come back, the route will be there for us," Anna says.
But when Maldonado told the boss in charge of his other route, Mike, about the surgery, the response was a little different. "He told my husband he can't hold his spot open, so we'll lose the money we make from the route from our checks, and that's $50 per day, and we'll be charged $2 for every complaint the newspaper gets while we're off. So we're stuck," Anna says.
She says they didn't have time to notify the Chronicle about this directly. On Thursday the couple delivered the papers and then Anna took her husband to the hospital for the operation. "We were surprised we'd be charged for being out, but there wasn't time to do anything but send out a note with the papers. His doctors say he probably shouldn't work at all, but we want to keep our routes."
As the Press noted last week, the law prohibits docking employee pay aside from in specific circumstances, and those circumstances do not include missing a shift, from what we can tell. The law does provide businesses the authority to cut pay if the employee signs paperwork agreeing to this and if the fine does not drop a worker's payment down to minimum wage.
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When the Press called the Chron's customer service department to inquire whether fining carriers this way is in keeping with newspaper policy, a woman named Lovely transferred us to a manager, Alex. Alex listened to our questions and said this was a matter for the district manager to respond to. She took down our phone number and information and said she'd have the district manager call. As of Friday morning, we're still waiting for that call, so we hope we'll hear back soon.
We also asked to speak with Mike, the route boss. We'll update as soon as we hear back from him as well.
On Friday morning, our paper wasn't on our doorstep or anywhere to be seen. We checked with a woman named Elise in the Chron's customer service department on Friday morning, stating that we did not wish to cost the Maldonados any money, but wanted to note the paper had not arrived. She apologized and explained that the only option was to file a complaint.
"When you file a complaint, the carrier is charged for that," she said.