Corker Holds FAA Bill In Order To Prevent FedEx Drivers From Unionizing

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)

Last year, the House of Representatives passed a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration and devoting $70 billion to airport infrastructure through 2012. The bill also changed an inequity in labor law which has allowed FedEx to operate under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), while other shipping companies like UPS are governed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

The RLA poses larger barriers to organizing than the NLRA, which has enabled FedEx to prevent its drivers from collectively bargaining. So the company has invested a lot of time and effort into blocking the change, including characterizing it as a “bailout” for UPS.

And FedEx has an ally in Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who is preventing the FAA reauthorization from moving in the Senate, until he receives assurance that the change in labor law won’t occur:

Corker’s action extends a years-long fight in Washington between the mostly non-union FedEx and its unionized rival United Parcel Service Inc. over how workers at both companies should be treated under U.S. labor laws. “We are supportive of the Senate FAA bill, but we have placed a hold until we can be assured that the controversial FedEx provision will not be included in the final legislation,” Laura Lefler Herzog, a spokeswoman for Corker, a Republican, said today in an e-mailed statement.

The Senate’s version of the FAA bill doesn’t actually include the change, but Corker wants to ensure that it isn’t added when the Senate bill is reconciled with the House version. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has also expressed his disapproval of the legislation. Both of these senators are invested in this issue because FedEx has its headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee.

While Corker, Alexander, and FedEx itself characterize the change as “singling out” FedEx, all it would do is level the playing field between FedEx and other shipping companies when it comes to unionizing. FedEx CEO Fed Smith — “who raised more than $100,000 for 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain and was George W. Bush’s fraternity brother” — has said that “I don’t intend to recognize any unions at Federal Express,” and the company successfully lobbied Congress in 1996 to keep its RLA status.

Not only does FedEx prevent unionization by keeping its status as an RLA-covered company, but it also systematically misclassifies its drivers as contractors (instead of full employees) so that they can’t organize. As American Rights at Work has pointed out, “by classifying nearly 15,000 drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, FedEx Ground lowers its labor costs by avoiding payroll taxes and benefits.” Its drivers are responsible for fuel and maintenance of the trucks, and are not provided with paid vacation or sick leave.

UPS spokesman Malcolm Berkley said that the change should be made because “we believe all drivers in the country, who are doing the same job, should be treated by the same law. To us, it is literally that simple.” But Corker’s obstinance is preventing that from happening.