SAN DIEGO - Buried deep in the advertisements of their Sunday newspapers, several people found holiday cards from their newspaper carriers.
While that's nothing new this time of year, these cards came with letters that tell subscribers their carriers aren't getting tips. The carriers are asking customers to skip the section on their bills for tips and to send the money directly to them.
Team 10 began following the money after three different 10News employees got the letters with their newspapers. They were delivered to homes that subscribe to the San Diego Union-Tribune in University City, Clairemont and Del Mar.
One letter reads, in part: "If in the past you have included a gratuity when you renew your subscription, please DO NOT continue to do so, because under new management this year, carrier money has been cut for delivery and gratuity given by subscriber hasn't been received this whole year."
Another carrier wrote: "Please DO NOT include a tip with your payment. It will never reach the carrier. There was a time when that would have been the case, but no longer."
The letters were sent to both Union-Tribune and Los Angeles Times subscribers in San Diego County.
Team 10 contacted the circulation departments of both newspapers in early December, and they said they were looking into it. However, it wasn't until Team 10 contacted Union-Tribune Publisher Jeff Light that questions were answered.
Light said in an email: "This is an unfortunate case of misinformation that seems to be spreading and is upsetting a lot of people. Of course we are not withholding tips from anyone! That is absolutely not the case."
He referred Team 10 to the Union-Tribune's Director of Distribution, Joe Robidoux. Robidoux told Team 10 all tips are turned over to a distribution company called ACI, who contracts with individual carriers.
Roubidoux referred Team 10 to ACI CEO Joe Klunder, and Klunder confirmed all carrier tips are passed from the newspaper to his company, which turns them over to the distributors. The distributors are supposed to pass those tips directly to the carriers, who are independent contractors. There are five different distributors in San Diego County.
Klunder said all tips are carefully documented, but he admitted Team 10's inquiry wasn't the first about carriers not getting tips. He said one other report was received several weeks ago, but the company was unable to verify it.
Part of the problem is the carriers are afraid they'll be fired if they report the alleged thefts.
Team 10 spoke to one anonymous carrier, and she said many carriers were upset about the tip situation.
Klunder said he would investigate.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Times, which is owned by the same company as the Union-Tribune, sent Team 10 a statement that said the issue of carrier tips was researched through several departments.
Communications Director Hillary Manning wrote:
"Neither the Los Angeles Times nor the San Diego Union-Tribune has withheld any tips from newspaper carriers."
"Throughout the year, San Diego Union-Tribune subscribers have the option of including a tip for their carrier with their subscription payment. Those tips are processed with an itemized report, and remitted to the regional distributors for payment to their carriers. Once a year, during the holidays, the carriers also have the option to include an envelope with the newspaper delivery so they may receive tips directly. While it's possible that subscribers occasionally include an additional amount with their subscription payment, which is intended as a tip but not noted as such, we have reviewed the itemized reporting from the past year and are confident that we have processed the carrier tips correctly and that the carriers should be receiving the tips that their customers have graciously provided."
Team 10 will continue checking with carriers to see if they receive their tips.