The Shipping News: UPS-FedEx Battle Heats up on Captiol Hill

Lindsay Beyerstein

FedEx and United Parcel Service are locked in a bitter struggle over the right of FedEx’s non-airline employees to organize.

FedEx opposes changes to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization that would allow its drivers to unionize location by location, instead of company-wide. The reauthorization bill passed the House in May with language that would bring drivers and other employees in FedEx’s Express division under the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) instead of the Railway Labor Act (RLA).

The Senate version of the bill, however, does not contain that language — yet. Both sides are spending millions on lobbyists to pressure lawmakers.

UPS argues that FedEx has a permanent competitive advantage because of the discrepancy. FedEx began as an airline, and then branched out into trucking. Whereas, UPS started as a trucking company and later expanded into the airline industry, so its non-airline workers fall under the NLRA.

The RLA is one of the great pieces of union-busting legislation in American history. Originally passed in 1926, the Act was the culmination of a series of constraints on railroad workers that began after President Rutherford B. Hayes’ government called in federal troops to quell a railroad strike in 1877.

The whole point of the legislation was to curtail the power of railroad unions. Management argued that railroad workers should face more obstacles to unionization because the railways were so important to commerce. Airlines were brought under the RLA in 1936.

The RLA makes organizing more difficult because it requires an absolute majority of employees in the company to vote yes,” not just a majority of those who actually cast ballots in the election. Also, the RLA stipulates that all the eligible employees must vote to organize at once, as opposed to the NLRA which allows workers in individual shops to vote. FedEx is fighting to keep its employees under the RLA because it wants to keep unions out at all costs.

So far, most of the debate has been couched in terms of what’s amenable to management. But the real issue here is the rights of the workers. The right to organize and bargain collectively is one of our most fundamental rights. It shouldn’t be curtailed capriciously.

Workers at FedEx have fewer rights than UPS workers doing the same job. The arguments for putting airline and railroad employees in a special category are outdated: Today’s airlines don’t have the kind of monopolies that railroads did in 1877. A strike at FedEx will not cripple the national economy.

Its main competitor, UPS, is a thriving company that’s heavily unionized. Its overnight delivery service hasn’t been crippled by labor unrest. It’s time to level the playing field for workers by scrapping the RLA once and for all.

Support this work

Reader donations, many as small as just $5, are what fund the work of writers like this—and keep our content free and accessible to everyone. If you support this work, will chip in to help fund it?

It only takes a minute to donate. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.

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.
Subscribe and Save 66%

Less than $1.67 an issue