How Big Business Wielded Antitrust Against Working People & How To Fight Back

Private equity’s incursion into medicine, court reporting, and beyond is about siphoning more of the ecosystem to its control because control makes more money, regardless of the societal consequences. If it truly had a better product, there would be no need for subterfuge. The future belongs to reporters. Together we can give a voice to the principles of accuracy and integrity we hold dear.

Veritext and Esquire brought antitrust suits that seemingly were consolidated against the Louisiana Board of Examiners of Certified Court Reporters. The complaint and settlement agreement can be found on the board’s website. The rules of this game should now be pretty clear. Where court reporters get laws enacted and there are attempts to enforce those laws, lawsuits will follow to wear down the will to enforce the law. Where court reporters fight to enact laws, the multimillion dollar corporations will have more money to lobby government and probably buy our lobbyists too. Where court reporters have laws that go unenforced, the multimillion dollar corporations get to corner and control the market oligopoly style while the government keeps the court reporters in check. Meanwhile, associations are hamstrung by the legal liability of being “competitor collectives.” I’ve only ever said what we’re all thinking: This game is rigged. That is not to say the lawsuit wasn’t meritorious, but then the law isn’t always just.

This situation is not without hope. Over the years I’ve read and written about employee misclassification. Things vary a little bit from place to place, but my understanding of the law is it doesn’t matter what the “employer” and worker call the relationship, a worker can still be found to be a common law employee for purposes of unemployment, workers compensation, Title VII, taxes, or other American rights, like the right to unionize. There’s a form SS-8 from the IRS for determining worker status. There are also DOL complaints. Of course, any one reporter could be singled out and retaliated against, so the key would be for a group of reporters from a similar geographic area / regional office to file, make the case that they are common law employees, and then get a petition going to start a union, preferably with the help of a lawyer.

This kind of organization isn’t easy, but it seems necessary. We face a de facto silencing as the multimillion dollar corporations continue broadcasting digital court reporter jobs and minimizing our online presence with articles about our “impossible” shortage.

Digital court reporting proponents mislead jobseekers by not educating them on the actual state of the industry. From Reddit r/courtreporting.

Just some of the things reporters could collectively bargain for are the right to refuse jobs, the right to work from home, equipment reimbursement, support contract reimbursement, higher pay or page rates, stenography training funds for digitals, staffing ratios of stenographers to digitals, paid association dues for court reporters, severance pay, paid leave, or even some retraining money in the event there is a major technological breakthrough that makes us redundant, which is unlikely. If the big box claims it can’t pay, it may have to open its books to the union.

There are good arguments for court reporters being misclassified under the law. Top of the list is that these businesses couldn’t exist without their independent contractors. Our businesses are not independent of theirs, our business is their business. Where there are ABC laws in place, the independent contractor is (A), free from direction and control in performing the work. A lot of us really aren’t. We’re forced to use a certain layout. Many of us aren’t allowed to subcontract jobs. The agency picks what they want to offer us. We don’t meet their terms, we don’t get the work. (B), the work takes place outside the usual business of the company and off the site of the business. I would love for these companies to defend themselves by saying court reporting businesses are not in the business of court reporting. (C), the worker customarily is engaged in an independent trade, occupation, profession, or business. This is where a lot of us are true independent contractors who have business with multiple firms or even lawyer clients. But for those that are working with the same company for years, as I did with Magna, there’s a real argument that they’re not engaged in independent anything.

Myths of misclassification by the Department of Labor.

In New York this is even muddier. The Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, looked at who controlled the customer and assignments in the Postmates decision. Some of the things looked at there? Postmates (1), determined which couriers had access to which assignment. Sound familiar? (2), set the delivery fee charged to customers. In New York, at least, the agencies definitely decide the fees. (3), paid couriers a non-negotiable percentage of the delivery fee. Some agencies allow negotiation and some set rates. Some do both. (4), took on the risk of loss by paying couriers for deliveries regardless of whether the customer paid. Again, something that happens routinely in our business. (5), paid a portion of the couriers’ business expenses through prepaid debit cards. (6), did not permit customers to select specific couriers for deliveries on its platform. Lawyers can request us, but only if they know about us. We are effectively “hidden.” Even then, the agency decides whether or not to send us. (7), tracked the courier’s location and provided customers with estimated delivery times on its platform. Agencies occasionally attempt to put out rules like arriving 30 minutes early and so on. (8), assumed responsibility for replacing couriers who became unavailable after accepting a delivery. Agencies do this. (9), handled customer complaints and in some cases retained liability to customers for incorrect or damaged deliveries. One agency in New York has actually had reporters handle customer complaints after the Postmates decision according to a freelancer source, so there may be a shift here, but prior to the Postmates decision agencies generally handled customer complaints. As you can see, those of us with independent business or work from multiple sources may not qualify, but there’s ground to argue.

As individuals, we hold an advantage over organizations. We can make decisions and enact change much faster. Other court reporters have prodded at the issue, and it was enough to prompt talk of settlement.

Halbert et al v Atkinson-Baker Inc class action settlement notice raising a misclassification issue. Docket Alarm link to case.

We have a fairly predictable ethos in court reporting of clinging to our freelance title. That title actively robs us of our right to speak to each other on the issues that matter. It steals away the rights that most court reporters would have if properly classified under law that you just read with your own eyes and/or screen readers. Agencies understand court reporter culture and our lean towards tradition. They not only know the game, but how we react to the game. Who would continue to play a game knowing that it is rigged? If your opponent had a copy of all the moves you were going to make in a chess game, would you keep following the script? Stenographers should lead the movement and we have the best shot at altering the script. If digitals beat us to it, it’ll probably be the other way with contracts favorable to expanding digital.

It’s a question of whether we fight back in the name of ethics, accuracy, and the future careers of the students we’re training today, or whether we lay down and let private equity eat the industry ecosystem for the benefit of its bank account. The heart of what I’m doing is educating working people that things aren’t always as they’re said to be.

DOL Communication to Christopher Day
DOL Communication to Christopher Day

I find it funny that digital court reporting proponents like Veritext have antitrust concerns while they work together to lead the organization that was publishing fraudulent / misleading statistics apparently meant to manipulate a market.

Speech-to-Text Institute leadership primarily consists of digital court reporting proponent organizations. STTI is the organization that pushed misleading statistics to consumers and jobseekers.
Speech-to-Text Institute leadership primarily consists of digital court reporting proponent organizations. STTI is the organization that pushed misleading statistics to consumers and jobseekers.
Speech-to-Text Institute leadership primarily consists of digital court reporting proponent organizations. STTI is the organization that pushed misleading statistics to consumers and jobseekers.

A few thousand dollars and we shifted the narrative from impossible shortage to scumbag corporations tricking honest people. If you think I’m wrong on this, just look at my long history of running the corporations ragged with a minuscule fraction of the resources they have. They understand us? I understand them. And reporters talking about this post is their worst nightmare.

Veritext Seeking Videos to Promote Steno

Veritext announced that it is accepting videos promoting steno. Film a video of yourself with your machine and say “I am a court reporter.” Sample ideas are available.

Veritext calls for videos to promote steno

The “get started” button leads here.

I don’t want to be too disparaging. One of my primary gripes has been the very lopsided promotion of digital, and if they’re doing something positive for us, it should go forward. No doubt, good job, Veritext. Thanks for spending the time and money to do this. I mean that.

I must remind reporters, though, that this is a clear indication that the Speech-to-Text Institute, associated with Veritext’s Adam Friend, lied when it said the stenographer shortage was impossible to solve. If our shortage was impossible to solve, Veritext would have zero incentive to continue to attract anyone to the field. It would, in fact, be heartless to lure people into a dying field. This supports my claim that our field is not dying, and that any decline is reversible. The numbers support this to the extent they exist.

I am ecstatic that Veritext is doing something positive. It doesn’t really negate the fact that they have been advertising for digital reporters on LinkedIn for over a year that I’ve been monitoring it. That means every day spamming jobseekers with digital, digital, digital. So to make a video and release that and share it is nice, but it’s not quite the same impact on the market in my estimation. Maybe I will be wrong. Hopefully I will be wrong. Advertising stenography now gives us the people we’ll need later. Timing and enthusiasm matters. And the timing of this is a little odd. We’re being deleted in Indiana. Has Veritext made a comment to the court about that like many of us have?

If I were Veritext, I’d claim that this video initiative helped solve the shortage and throw Cudahy’s math under the bus. It’d be a smart move for them. They get to be the heroes and cast doubt on Stenonymous in one swift move.

I’ll be submitting a video. I encourage others to if they have the time. While I am suspicious of Veritext’s motives at the top of their corporate structure, most of the people that work below them are going to be decent people. When I submitted something to their reporter corner years ago, it got featured. This is to say I don’t believe videos will be misused in any way. I really believe they’ll do exactly what they’re proposing to do here, and I think it’ll be great.

I just hope there’s more, and that this is not a one-off before they return to burying us.

Veritext Erased Popular Court Reporter Anecdote?

It was brought to my attention by Tiffany Guess in the Stenonymous Facebook group that this link used to house the text for the popular neuropsychologist blurb about court reporters that started circulating, as I recall, over 12 years ago. Atkinson-Baker, now a Veritext company, hosted it with credit to the Alabama Court Reporting Association.

So of course we use the Wayback Machine to see what that page looked like historically. It didn’t work for the above link, so I tried this one.

What did that page look like on March 27, 2016, according to the Wayback Machine?

As best I can tell, Atkinson-Baker was acquired in April 2020, though my personal recollection is hazy.

As if we didn’t have enough reasons to believe that Veritext was trying to underhandedly shape the market, at least one company under their control purged a steno reference. For what reason? This is akin to Stenograph papering over Phoenix theory with Phoenix ASR. It’s a rebranding at the expense of stenographers. A forced changing of the guard.

I know and accept that many stenographers feel trapped by their predicament. They are economically dependent upon the larger corporations and so coming out against their “employer” is just not going to happen. But remember that the company is not omniscient or omnipotent. Fans and haters both read the blog, so you can safely share my stuff in PMs under the guise of loving or hating it. The ultimate goal is spread it and increase reporter awareness.

Ultimately, the more Veritext reporters I get to talk to, the more power we will have to make a difference. So if you’re on the fence about me, here’s your sign, reach out.

The Hilarity of Veritext’s Silence

2019: A VP of Veritext makes some post or writing explaining that digital court reporting would change the landscape of our field. Veritext allegedly fires her and states stenography is the lifeblood of our industry.

Clipped from Stenonymous links found here.

2020: Veritext issues a letter trying to emphasize the dire shortage stats, stats that I later poked holes in. Even in 2020, I knew. Real change from lifeblood, huh?

2021: A public awareness campaign is launched over the bad stats and dishonest behavior in our field. Thousands of people see it.

2022: I’m openly calling them fraudsters. If you Google Veritext fraud I come up. No more open letters for stenographers?

Christopher Day posting about Veritext on Facebook, forgets to mention Cover Crow.
Veritext not looking for stenographers on LinkedIn.

Veritext shares an interesting quirk with U.S. Legal’s Peter Giammanco. Both seem just fine bullying or gaslighting women and seem to shrivel up when challenged. The pro-steno things both companies do are appreciated, but it’s pretty clear that they’re hedging their bets in the steno v digital debate, and I’m done giving them the benefit of the doubt.

The question remains, what to do about all this? The government’s inert. A lot of the reporters working with big box can’t be seen opposing big box. I’ve simply run out of money for the social media advertising — thank you to those that continue to help. I do have plans to further the public awareness campaign and I look forward to sharing them soon.

What do you all think?

Veritext’s Pro Steno Ad

Recently came across this ad. Since it’s so close in proximity to me asking whether the company does anything to actively promote stenography the way it does digital, I thought this was noteworthy and deserved to be shared.

Unfortunately, sometimes the link brings me to the Facebook reel and sometimes it says the reel is no longer available, but it’s one of the things out there in the world promoting the profession.

If you land on something like this, you’re in the right place.

I can’t help but wonder if maybe all these outfits were taken in by the buzz created by STTI, assumed the stenographer numbers would be too low to be meaningful, and then were all taken by surprise when we actually turned out to be robust enough to organize against the corporate narrative of “there just aren’t stenographers.” The truckers had to deal with the same narrative, after all.

But regardless, happy to see some stenography ads by Veritext. Hope to see more. I believe in our ability to recruit and maintain the profession even without the larger companies helping. With the larger companies helping, it would be a breeze. We could move out of this era of trying to erase the stenographic modality and into one where we focus on the customer service skills of the field. Maybe we’ll even address the pay concerns I’ve raised.

FTC to Crack Down on Companies Taking Advantage of Gig Workers

The FTC seems very conscious of gig workers, a label that freelance court reporters almost certainly fall into. Our industry was doing gig work before it was popular.

While nothing in the statement linked above specifically mentions our industry, it does show that they have a very good understanding of how markets like ours operate. It talks about the concentration of markets. In ours, this is similar to how the private equity brigade is quietly buying everybody out so that it’s an open secret they own dozens of smaller firms and are using that power to turn around and dictate rates to court reporters. This becomes illegal if and when they start agreeing with each other to fix prices on us, at least as can be inferred from this bulletin.

The FTC is more or less coming out for the workers here. That’s the “freelancers” that might be subject to the illegal conduct described below.

Court reporting companies should take note. This reads to me like a warning shot. “Clean up your markets and treat your people well, or the government gets involved.”

We made a lot of noise at the FTC back in January. While I can’t guarantee that this action is related to the concerns raised by us and other antitrust activists, I’ve got a feeling our industry is on their radar despite its size.

This also makes the deceptive actions of companies like Veritext risky. How long before consumers are aware that the company has used its market power to limit consumer choice? Can the company guarantee that not one consumer has been denied a stenographer under the guise of shortage? And if the company can, then it calls into question shortage claims, because the statistics say 20% of the jobs should be going uncovered. If I had some advice for the private equity brigade, it would be to stop squeezing the people that perform the work. It’s not a good look for you. It’s only going to shake consumer confidence when they find out that instead of helping to grow and develop the existing processes, you sought to make money off of worker turnover — virtually guaranteeing a workforce of amateurs, exactly what every lawyer asks for at their legal proceeding! Even if there isn’t some kind of suit and direct losses, the loss in reputation will be phenomenal, and in this business, reputation is everything.

For now, this is a solid case of “let’s see what happens.”

Veritext’s Digital Reporter Ad & Assorted Thoughts

Has anyone seen anything like this for steno?

Veritext ad for digital court reporting instead of stenographic reporting.

If yes, I think a valid argument could be made that the company does, as it has stated in the past, support all its contractors. Please throw it up in the comments.

But if not, let me humbly suggest that Veritext is clearly expanding digital over steno because it likely has financial interests in digital court reporter training. If successful, it means fewer opportunities for our stenographic students.

This goes to my previous comments, that their actions can exacerbate our stenographer shortage. When you put a spotlight on the demand for something, you pull attention from other things. We now have evidence on this blog of constant digital reporting spotlighting from companies that claim to want and need stenographers. Other than supporting that school over in Maryland, I rarely see stenographic support from Veritext. This is why the shortage exists. There’s not a clear strategy beyond hedging.

When the available evidence suggests digital technologies are not up to the task of reliable transcription and these folks are all piling their effort and money into it, I really think it’s fine to stop supporting it. If you’re somebody that’s got to work for them, I get it. Otherwise, why contribute to stenographers’ elimination? Perhaps if the company were to just be honest, “this is the direction we’re going,” I’d feel differently. But it’s been a complicated maze of claims and actions.

While we’re on the topic of Veritext, let’s talk private equity. There were a number of research firms looking into our field recently. It’s possible that one or more of the PE giants was looking for a buyout and buyers were looking into the field. Though this is mostly speculation on my part. It is still a mystery how profitable those PE giants are. The whole thing is troubling because in the event one or more of them are zombies they’ll be able to operate until cash flow is a problem, all the while influencing the market. That would be like stenographers being able to operate at a loss for multiple years — we could all offer $1.00 per page if big money was subsidizing us.

Happy Friday!

Why I Suspect Big Box is Ready for Big Burial

I’ve been through lots of market research in the last year. Just to connect a few dots, we know two of the largest companies in our industry, Veritext and US Legal, are merely investments in the portfolios of larger holding companies, Leonard Green and Abry Partners. Those larger companies are invested in the private equity game, a game of buying, holding, and flipping (BHF) companies for profit in the same way someone might BHF houses, stocks, or bonds.

Approximately one out of every four court reporting companies are unprofitable. Combine that with the knowledge that in order to BHF companies, holding companies often load up the investment company with debt in what’s called a leveraged buyout. Veritext and US Legal may be servicing huge debts that the smaller shops don’t have. Their seemingly endless cash flow and price warfare over the last decade may have been at a loss. They wouldn’t be the first. VIQ Solutions has a bunch of transcription subsidiaries and operates with losses in the millions.

Anecdotally, multiple sources have reported lawyers are unhappy with both Veritext and US Legal, and it appears both corporations are increasing their rates faster than smaller court reporting companies, something they wouldn’t be doing if they were not feeling some financial strain.

This is probably the decade and the next golden age for court reporting. The behemoths are likely weighed down by debt and a management structure that cannot be supported without ridiculous prices. Smaller, more efficient firms will be able to rise up and take back all of the business that was gobbled up. I don’t need an anecdote for that one. The latest from MAGNA, Veritext, and the Big Bully Brigade was “waaah we’re bigger and can provide things little people can’t. Just believe us! Because bigness!” A lie so unconvincing that I think a six year old could’ve figured it out as long as that six year old was not Victoria Hudgins.

Stenographers need a pat on the back. The increased competition over the last few months alone has the larger corporations showing signs of strain. US Legal, still terrified to mention court reporting’s biggest commercial blog, has appointed Sara Giammanco as the Director of Reporter Engagement.

I wonder why they needed one of those. Could it be because Peter Giammanco supports digital court reporting? Does anyone really believe they’ll stop acting passive aggressively toward court reporters until court reporters put the company down a la some increased competition and bankruptcy? It’s very simple. People say what they’re paid to say. We’ve seen it with Stenograph. We’ll see it here too.

Maybe I can help the big boxes. Here’s some free consulting for them: Cudahy lied. The stenographer shortage can be solved by recruitment. The science and data available today, namely the Testifying While Black 2019 and Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition 2020 studies, show that alternatives to stenography aren’t as accurate. They aren’t cheaper. The market preference is stenographers. So basically you morons threw out the fundamentals of business by ignoring consumer preference, service quality, and cost of revenue, a blunder from which I doubt you’ll be able to recover, given the only thing you’ve ever been good at is wrongfully convincing stenographers they’re overpaid. People are prone to confirmation bias, and the business types have allowed their belief in technology™️ to rob them of all common sense. It would’ve been a lot smarter to turn stenographers into salespeople and train them to sell upcharges like expedites, roughs, and realtime instead of beating us down on price and constantly putting us in a state of feeling unworthy. You know, maybe I’ll start a company here in New York City and do just that.

Knowing that the big boxes are probably servicing big debts and seeing how they’re now scrambling to appease the profession that months ago they were claiming was dying no matter what™️, I think it is incumbent on every reporter to realize a single truth: If you fight, you will win.

Veritext Apparently Charged the Equivalent of $37 Per Page in Texas

I was passed a transcript excerpt by a source that wishes to remain anonymous. As a note, the redactions weren’t done by me. It was a short deposition, and looked like any other.

Nothing weird about this, literally.

There were three parties and a videographer.

Still nothing weird about this.

Now, maybe some of my Texas audience can fill me in on this, but apparently there’s a certificate in Texas that tells us how much the deposition officer gets. I do not know for sure if the deposition officer is verbiage for the reporting company, the reporter, or something else. I tried to connect to the court reporter on LinkedIn, but she didn’t respond. This certificate listed, on a 39-page transcript, a grand total of $1,457.31. That’s about $37.37 a page. Even if we assume the videographer took half, that’s about $18.69 a page.

I’m in a state where my mentee was told “you don’t deserve more” after asking for far less.

I can’t figure out how the cost gets that high. I have to look at New York officials for comparison. Assuming a daily of $6.50 and two copies of $1.25, they’d be looking at $9 per page. Freelancers out here have been doing about a dollar a hookup, so even if we assume there were three hookups, we’re still talking about $12 a page — and there’s no evidence to suggest any of that is true. I’m just trying to add calculations to get to $37 a page.

If nothing else, I hope this annihilates the argument that court reporters are in danger of pricing ourselves out of the market. Such a thing is often said to break our newbies into accepting very little money for the important work that they do. It’s a disgusting corporate tactic to make the bottom line look better. Maybe the middleman model has outlived its usefulness to our profession.

Notably, Veritext also seems to be normalizing adding a kind of corporate certificate that doesn’t actually certify anything. What’s the point of this?

Veritext Legal Solutions promises that Veritext Legal Solutions is Veritext Legal Solutions. -Parody

I’m done chasing people and companies for answers. If they care to comment on the blog, I don’t censor comments. But good luck explaining $37 a page to a field of stenographers that are often told lawyers won’t pay more than the measly $4 or $5 we pull in.

Shortage Explained

I am beset by claims that I do not believe there is a shortage. Then, in a recent social media post, a court reporter came on stating that she felt hopeless and that she felt the companies are gaining ground. Below is what I wrote. It is a summary of all my research as of today.

“There is a shortage. It’s being exaggerated and exacerbated by Veritext, US Legal, and the Speech-to-Text Institute. Digital is not cost effective. The companies are picking up speed because they literally have no choice. We blew open their deception of student consumers and started reporting it to the FTC.

We are solidly more powerful today. The reason we feel smaller is because we are fragmented and operating on incomplete information. What do I mean by that? Well, we are by best estimates about 28,000 strong. All told, by 2033, we probably need to be about 30 to 33,000 strong. When you multiply that 28,000 by the median stenographer salary of 61,000 you get about 1.7 billion. We represent $1.7 billion of an industry that is approaching $3 billion. The goal of the companies is to encroach on that $1.7 billion.

There is hope. The companies may be operating at a loss on the premise that they can jack up the rates when we are defeated. The concept of a company operating at a loss is called a zombie company. A lot of big names you know are zombies or have made massive blunders. Uber’s a zombie. Zillow burned billions in market capitalization believing it could trust its algorithms to buy homes. These big companies don’t sound scary when you realize they can make simple mistakes that cost them large percentages of their value, do they?

But this requires our continuous recruitment and training of stenographers. We should band together as a field and start talking about things like relocation funds where necessary. There are many creative things we can do with the power that we have. But it requires talking to each other and keeping hope.

We know from Richter’s rats that hope likely makes people superhuman. I suspect that’s why we get stories like the mom who fought the mountain lion off with her bare hands. Physically impossible, but apparently happened? And compared to things like that, our problems are easy to solve.

We’ll win if we try. The dirty tactics being used against us wouldn’t be necessary if our fate was inevitable.”

This is also why I revamped the payment system on the Stenonymous.com home page. The fact remains that if each reporter made the suggested monthly $5 donation or annual $60 donation, by best estimates, this blog would have a larger annual budget than Veritext and US Legal combined. That’s enough money to end the shortage (assuming $1 to $2 per engagement) and advertise what’s happening to about half the lawyers in the country. I’m grateful for the outpouring of support and the people that have spent well over the suggested donations.

I still have cards up my sleeve. So, even assuming the blog receives not a single penny more, thank you all for your trust in me. Stay tuned for big news expected the weeks of January 24th and January 31st.