Republican Senators Crusade Against a FedEx Union

Lindsay Beyerstein

A FedEx worker places packages onto a truck in Miami, Fla. Currently, employees of the company are barred from organizing.

Two Republican senators from Tennesse are doing a big favor for a big company from their home state by fighting unionization rights for drivers at the Memphis-based courier FedEx.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R‑Tenn.) has pledged to use every right and privilege I have” to prevent FedEx drivers from organizing. The only reason FedEx can’t organize now is because of a legal double stanard.

Other shipping companies like UPS are governed by the National Labor Relations Act, like the vast majority of employers in the United States. Whereas FedEx is subject to the Railway Labor Act, which denies them the basic organizing rights most employees take for granted.

The Railway Labor Act (RLA) is an old piece of union-busting legislation designed to curb the power of railroad unions by taking away their right to strike during an era when the rails were the backbone of the economy. As the airline industry became more important to the U.S., the RLA was extended to cover airlines.

FedEx is covered by the RLA because the courier started out as an airline and branched out into trucking. UPS started as a trucking company and branched out into shipping by air, so it falls under the NLRA. The two companies perform the same service, but their employees have different rights because of an accident of history.

Last week, Sen. Bob Corker (R‑Tenn.) placed a hold on the reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration. The Senate version of the bill wouldn’t give FedEx unionization rights, but Corker is launching a preemptive strike against any attempt by the House to insert that language in conference committee. The version of the $53.5 billion FAA reauthorization measure that passed the House last year includes unionization rights for FedEx.

Corker was forced to back down slightly yesterday after being widely ridiculed for putting a hold on a bill that didn’t even contain the provision he objected to. He finally lifted the hold after meeting with the distraught families of plane crash victims who want the FAA reauthorization to pass as quickly as possible because it contains tougher aviation safety measures.

FedEx is dead set against a union and the company is prepared to spend big to wield influence in Washington. The company spent a whopping $16,370,000 on lobbying in 2009, mostly to sway the FAA reauthorization.

FedEx is Corker’s third largest corporate donor. The company’s employees and PACs have enriched Corker’s campaign and leadership PAC coffers by $57,800 over the past 5 years. FedEx is Alexander’s 14th largest corporate donor. His campaign committee and leadership PAC have accepted $34,500 FedEx dollars since 2005.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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