Pizza drivers deliver rebuttals to editor's critique

May 8, 2003

It's fun being a trade journalist, but not easy.

A basic news journalist attempts to report unbiased fact, while folks of my ilk aim to cover an industry factually and promote its overall cause -- in this case, selling pizza more profitably.

Still, that doesn't release trade journalists from the responsibility of pointing out the flaws of the industries they cover. The goal of such criticism is to steer said industry's members to recognize their wrongdoings and seek improvement.

That goal was the motive behind my recent commentary, "Can't operators and drivers get along?" In the piece, I suggested operators and delivery drivers change both their attitudes and practices in order to ease the ongoing battle between those camps.

I chastised both groups: operators for not increasing driver reimbursement rates (which could be generated through delivery charges to customers); and drivers for not seeing pizza delivery as a part-time stepping-stone job that pays the bills while one seeks a long-term career.

Not surprisingly, no operator commented on the piece, though many read it. (That's one beauty of Internet publishing.

Steve Coomes, Editor

Unlike print magazines, we know who's reading what, for how long and when.) And since I get lots of comments on other issues, I assume the lack of counterarguments may be a silent admission I was right.

Many drivers, however, objected to some elements of the piece. All agreed reimbursement rates should be increased, but some didn't agree that charging for delivery is the way to fund it.

Many rebuttals centered on my belief that drivers shouldn't view pizza delivery as a career job, that it's pretty easy part-time work (save for the increasing number of encounters with greedy and bloodthirsty thugs) that reaps a fair reward.

While there were many good arguments, perhaps the best articulated came from Tim Lockwood, treasurer of the Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers. His lengthy and respectful reply (which I had to shorten some for space constraints) summed up many other drivers' complaints, and I wanted to let him have his say and speak for them here.

"First of all, pizza delivery is my one and only job, and has been for eight years -- more than 20 percent of my lifetime, and almost half of my working life. I love this job because I have tried other occupations, and I am uniquely suited to this job.

"For those that have me pegged as some sort of dead-end loser, I think I should mention that I am college-educated, and my delivering pizza pulls half the weight of my mortgage payment (my wife's "real" job pulls the other half), with enough left over to fund my Roth IRA.

"During my working life, I have held "real" and "important" jobs that required "real" thought. I have "real-world" skills, but no desire to work in the "real" world. If you doubt me, consider this partial list of my prior occupations when I was in my 20s:

* Office manager for a medical-cost review company

* Intake clerk for a county office of Indiana's Division of Family and Children

* Management positions in three different retail settings (shift manager in fast-food, manager of convenience store, electronics department manager at a department store).

"I excelled at each one; but I never quite found job satisfaction until I went back to my first job: delivering pizzas. ...

"I realized that real careers are not defined by having a desk and wearing a colorful noose, any more than real intelligence is measured by having (a diploma) on one's wall. Careers are defined by doing something meaningful for yourself and for others -- and if you've ever seen the joy on a 5-year-old boy's face when he realizes the pizza man has just brought a great big gigantic cheese pizza just for him, you'll understand perfectly. ...

"The best pizza delivery drivers love their job well enough to become highly skilled at it, and yet operators take undue advantage in a manner that is just filthy and immoral.

In most jobs, if you want a meaningful raise, all you have to do is walk into the boss' office, lay before him/her what you've done for the company and what others who do your job are earning, and you stand a fair

"Careers are defined by doing something meaningful for yourself and for others -- and if you've ever seen the joy on a five-year-old boy's face when he realizes the pizza man has just brought a great big gigantic cheese pizza just for him, you'll understand perfectly."

-- Tim Lockwood
Pizza Delivery Driver

chance of getting that raise.

"Not so in pizza delivery. Half your pay (or more) comes from tips, and even the very mention of the word "tip" is strictly forbidden by the company you work for.

"Yet these same operators who forbid mentioning tips to the customers place newspaper ads and hang signs that say something like 'earn up to $14 per hour,' never mentioning the fact to the unquestioning public that over half of that is going to have to come from the voluntary generosity of strangers. ...

"Finally, need I remind you of your own repeated articles that point up the very real risk of injury and/or death on the job due to robbery ... ? The job may initially appeal to kids, but it takes a real grown-up to understand the risks he or she faces every day.

"Only an adult fully comprehends that the next delivery could be his last. It is not for the faint of heart to go out there every evening knowing there could be some juvenile delinquent hiding behind the hydrangea bushes ready to crack your skull open with a Louisville Slugger for the privilege of stealing either your pizza, the $8 and 22 cents in your change bank, or your 16-year-old delivery beater. Let's ask Barry Schrader (rest in peace, brother) if this is a low-stress situation (See related stories Trio arrested after beating driver with bat and stealing his car, Teens to face murder charges after delivery driver dies and Delivery driver's murder cannot be forgotten).

"Pizza delivery ain't no kid's game, we ain't kids, and we ain't playing. This is a real career to many of us, and we take our jobs just as seriously as you take yours.

"And if the pizza operators don't get the picture now, I can guarantee the picture will become much clearer in the not-very-distant future. Drivers won't stand for the status quo for too much longer."

How 'bout it operators: what's your opinion?

Topics: Commentary , Crime , Operations Management , Service

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