Corporate lobbyists have a time-honored trick of slipping a few words into major legislation just before Congress adjourns.
Those few words always mean special treatment for the well-connected and powerful. They almost never help working people. And by the time the public finds out, it’s too late.
Twelve years ago, a few last-minute words strengthened FedEx’s hand against unions. No other freight or package delivery company received such a boon.
FedEx had long curried favor with members of Congress by donating heavily to their political campaigns. The company flew them around the country on its fleet of corporate jets and appointed them to its board when they retired.
In October 1996, senators were rushing to adjourn so they could campaign for office back home. But first they had to finish a bill that funded airports – something they all wanted to pass.
Just before the Senate recessed, FedEx lobbyists managed to add the words “express carrier” back into the bill. That meant that FedEx Express’s labor relations for all employees would be governed by the Railway Labor Act, which is meant to cover railroads and airlines. Non-airline employees working for competitors of FedEx Express were governed by the other set of rules under which workers can form unions – the National Labor Relations Act.
Under the Railway Labor Act, workers can only form national bargaining units. Under the National Labor Relations Act, workers can form bargaining units at individual company locations. It is much, much harder for workers at a company like FedEx Express to organize under the Railway Labor Act.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy recognized the injustice and took to the Senate floor. ''Federal Express is notorious for its anti-union ideology, but there is no justification for Congress becoming an accomplice in its union-busting tactic,'' he said.
The bill passed anyway.
It is well past time to right that wrong. Fortunately, Congress now seems inclined to restore fairness to the freight and package delivery industry. The House last month voted overwhelmingly to apply one set of rules to all express delivery companies. The Teamsters Union urges the Senate do the same so FedEx Express will have to treat non-airline workers the same way all of its competitors do – under the National Labor Relations Act.
FedEx Express’s exemption from the law that governs its competitors is absurd. Today, a whole slew of FedEx workers who never so much as touch an airplane are forced to organize under a law designed for airline and railroad workers.
It is also unfair. FedEx Express package car drivers, tractor trailer drivers, loaders, unloaders, sorters and truck mechanics have an uphill battle to join a union. The workers who perform the exact same tasks at FedEx’s competitors do not face the same legal obstacles.
Company spinmeisters are claiming, implausibly, that it would be a “legislative bailout” for UPS if FedEx had to abide by the same set of rules that apply to UPS.
UPS doesn’t need a bailout. Last year it earned $3 billion. During the most recent quarter, UPS outperformed FedEx in almost every possible measure – while paying good wages and retirement and health care benefits to the 250,000 Teamsters it employs.
FedEx’s chief spokesman has even threatened to “destroy” anyone who gets in the company’s way on this legislation. The company is gearing up to launch a multi-million dollar ad campaign to get its way.
The Senate should resist the blandishments of FedEx lobbyists and do the right thing for all workers in the freight and package delivery industry.