• Eager for change, delivery drivers form trade association

    Tags: NAPICS

Mark Gold, co-owner of Pizza Shuttle in Milwaukee, Wis., probably is like a lot of pizzeria owners; he's never heard of the Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers (APDD).

"No, I don't know anything about it," said Gold, whose store grosses more than $3 million in annual sales, 70 percent of which is done through delivery. "And what do drivers need an association for, anyway?"

According to its president, J.W. Callahan, APDD was formed in May to improve delivery drivers' working conditions. He and other members say drivers are underpaid and forced to ply their trade in unsafe situations, and something has to change.

Today the association has about 100 driver members in 23 states and a handful of foreign countries, meaning there's plenty of room to grow. (While no official estimates of total drivers are available, if only half of the 62,000 pizzerias in the U.S. alone had delivery staffs of 10 drivers, the potential take would be 310,000.)

The group is also moving from a virtual existence as a discussion group on the World Wide Web to a reality-based entity with three officers. Membership for now is dues free, and beyond the discussion forum offered on the APDD Web site, the group has no established benefit structure.

To initiate the formation of a not-for-profit organization, its officers have put up a small sum of their own money to hire a professional advisor.

Callahan also said the group plans to seek corporate sponsorship from pizza industry providers and outside affiliated entities.

For those who suspect that APDD wants to unionize the industry's delivery force, its leadership says don't worry. Massing the hoi polloi for a strike would hurt drivers more than operators, said Callahan, because a work stoppage would cut off their flow of income. However, if it can grow its ranks, the opportunity to leverage APDD's numbers in some way to force changes would seem likely.

"We are not here to pursue confrontation with the pizza industry, we are here to identify ways to make it better for both companies and employees," said Callahan, a veteran driver who lives in Warner Robbins, Ga. "We don't want to slay Goliath, we want to help him become a gentle giant."

Wheel benefits

A scan of the dialogue at a few Web-based delivery driver discussion groups (see http://www.tipthepizzaguy.com/ and http://www.jungworld.com/rants/pizza/) lets readers see that the participants are a disgruntled lot. Topics of talk range from enduring supervisors from hell and cheap-tipping customers, all the way to the eternal destination of Barry Schrader's killers. (The 57-year-old Huntsville, Ala., delivery driver was ambushed by three teens, who beat him with a bat and stole his car on June 19. He died four days later from his injuries.)

Callahan elaborated on the discussions.

"People are being injured and killed, and it's largely preventable," he said, adding that APDD members also want greater compensation for using their own autos. "The chains have been given a free ride and free advertising at drivers' expense for a long time."

A veteran driver and APDD founding member who asked only to be referred to as Scott, said large chains have done nothing to assist drivers with reducing simple auto expenses, such as tires and oil changes. Large companies, he said, could easily negotiate volume deals on products and services drivers use.

"Why couldn't somebody like Domino's go to Penske (Auto Centers) and say, " 'I've got 25,000 drivers who need oil changes. Why don't you offer $5 off an oil change to all of them?' " said Scott. "None of those companies do specific things like this for pizza drivers, but they're big enough to."

Scott believes a group like APDD could provide such benefits once its numbers grow. "Instead of having 25,000 drivers from one company, what kind of a deal do you think we could get if we brought them 100,000 members?"

Gold likes the idea, but he's not convinced drivers care much about their cars to begin with. He also believes they're not the types to function well as a group.

"They don't need to join an organization to save $2 on oil changes. Finding a good deal is just common sense," said Gold, whose driver staff makes some 600 runs on busy nights. "And these guys are loners who like to work by themselves. Why would they want to be in an association?"

Callahan said he's heard statements like Gold's before, and that such generalizations are too far-reaching. "Yes, we're independent minded, but we know when we need to unify a little more to make things happen."

Safety concerns

Callahan believes drivers have little control over their personal safety and that they're often forced to deliver in areas even police have deemed unsafe. To correct the situation, he said, APDD would work with pizza companies to rethink safety policies.

"These guys don't even report their tips, so how can they be legitimate? That's going to be a struggle for them because I don't think they want to do that."

Mark Gold
Co-owner, Pizza Shuttle

"Management are often uncooperative or uncaring, and courts decide redlining policies with no input from the people who have to do the dirty work," he said. "We would prefer not to have to 'force' anyone to do anything, (but) we look to the companies to recognize our efforts as being both for their good and ours."

Tim McIntyre, vice president of corporate communications for Domino's Pizza, said the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based chain has gone to great lengths to develop stringent driver safety procedures.

"We're so focused on safety that we face a double-edged sword," said McIntyre. "When we take a very aggressive stance about not delivering to certain addresses ... we get accused of discrimination. ... We always err on the side of protecting our people."

Gold said good drivers rely on wits and common sense in sticky situations.

"If you drive to a house and 10 kids are hanging out outside, don't go there, drive away," said Gold, adding that his drivers regularly deliver to "tough" neighborhoods. "We go to some parts of the inner city, places the cops even wonder why we go there."

Gold said all his drivers use cell phones for safety, though he doesn't pay for them. He instead reimburses them for any job-related calls.

APDD member Scott envisions the association going a step further by working a volume deal with a cellular phone provider like Nextel, whose walkie-talkie-like instant two-way communication feature would be valuable to drivers. He admits, however, that operators would have to be convinced to use the same equipment for the system to be effective.

Let's get official

Both Gold and McIntyre point out that for APDD to grow and gain industry respect, its members will have to become more professional. McIntyre pointed to a mid-August APDD statement released to the press that criticized Domino's for expanding its $1 delivery fee test from 100 to 350 U.S. stores. The drivers' group, however, hasn't filed a complaint directly with the pizza company.

"They've never communicated with us on a formalized basis, so the first time we saw it was on the Web," McIntyre said. "I in no way want to discredit what they are or what they could become, but it's important" to complain to the source.

Gold added that the group's desire for tighter industry regulation -- be it in safety practices, compensation standards, etc. -- will only invite closer scrutiny on tip reporting.

"These guys don't even report their tips, so how can they be legitimate?" Gold asked. "That's going to be a struggle for them because I don't think they want to do that."

Scott said APDD's policy is to recommend drivers report all their tips, but he said he sees no way for anyone to police that.

Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers

Founded: May 2002
HQ: Web-based, www.pizzadeliverydrivers.org
Members: approximately 100
Officers: J.W. Callahan, president; Tim Lockwood, treasurer; secretary, asked to remain anonymous
Contact: pizza__man@hotmail.com
Key issues: increased driver safety, improved compensation

Building APDD will be a struggle in many ways, both Callahan and Scott admit. Its membership will forever suffer turnover directly reflecting job turnover in the industry, and dues, whenever they're instituted, must remain affordably low, which could severely limit APDD's ability to hire dedicated staff. It also likely will struggle to attract support from pizza chains, should the group's agenda ever appear threatening.

Still, the two men are enthusiastic about the daunting task ahead.

"I honestly think it's going to firm up and go," said Scott. "It's going to be a long process, but when I stop and talk to other drivers, they understand and get excited."

Callahan is a bit more reserved: "We do have a strategy for making it appealing to the industry, but we're playing our cards close to the (vest)."

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