Tip your Missoulian carrier 

Everyone knows it’s bad policy to shoot messengers, but what about shortchanging them?

About 400 carriers of the Missoulian and the Ravalli Republic recently settled a class-action suit against corporate parent Lee Enterprises over claims that the newspapers underpaid their carriers from 2000 to 2005. The amount repaid to carriers isn’t available since the settlement’s terms mandate confidentiality.

Carriers argued that their contracts specified that they be paid the difference between the retail subscription rate customers pay and the wholesale rate carriers are charged for the newspapers they deliver each morning. But as the newspapers raised customers’ rates, they didn’t pass on the increase to carriers, says plaintiffs’ attorney Don Snavely.

Asked for the papers’ version of the dispute, Missoulian attorney Lawrence Daly e-mailed a statement saying “a disagreement arose between The Missoulian and some of its carriers regarding the interpretation of contracts and the parties involved agreed to an appropriate resolution,” but didn’t elaborate further on the carriers’ claims.

In early July, Snavely was still working to track down carriers to alert them to the settlement.

One longtime carrier, who requested anonymity since she still delivers hundreds of papers during Missoula’s wee hours, says she joined in the suit despite fears of retribution because “I felt that we were shorted all those years, and I think they needed to pay up,” though she wasn’t ultimately satisfied with the settlement.

“I feel we got screwed, but it was better than nothing by a long shot,” she says.

She’s disappointed, however, that besides requesting a confidential settlement, the Missoulian also took the unusual step of requesting that the entire court file be sealed, which request the court granted. Consequently, no documents pertaining to the suit are public.

“I think it’s to cover their own tails, and I think it’s bull,” the anonymous carrier says. “I think everything ought to be open and people ought to be aware of it. We have a lot of customers out there and they ought to know about what’s going on.”

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