Alexander: I Will Use ‘Every Right And Privilege I Have As A Senator’ To Prevent FedEx Drivers From Unionizing

Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN)

Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN)

Earlier this week, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) announced that he had placed a hold on a pending bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), because the House-passed version of the legislation changes an inequity in labor law that makes it more difficult for truck drivers at FedEx to unionize than drivers at other shipping companies. Currently, Memphis-based FedEx is governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA), under which the barriers to organizing are higher, while the proposed change would pull FedEx under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Corker said that he supports the FAA reauthorization, but that he won’t lift his hold until he is assured that the House language (which is not included in the Senate bill) won’t be added in conference committee. His Tennessean counterpart, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), has also voiced his support for the hold, and today said that he will use “every right and privilege I have as a senator” to prevent FedEx drivers from organizing:

“I hope to help them pass it, but I’m going to use every right or privilege I have as a senator to make sure that in the end of the process, the legislation does not include the unfair provisions singling out FedEx that’s in the House bill,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said. “I’m going to work my way through this.”

That definitely sounds like a threat to filibuster, which in reality is all Corker is announcing with his hold, and it shows the extraordinary lengths to which these two senators are willing to go to protect one company in their home state from having to collectively bargain with its workers.

The RLA, which is technically only supposed to apply to airlines and railroad companies, stipulates that workers can only form one national union, with a ban on local unions. For obvious reasons, holding a unionization campaign for the entirety of FedEx’s ground organization at once poses certain logistical problems.

Even though it has a network of delivery trucks, FedEx has successfully lobbied for years to remain classified as an airline, and saying that “you can’t put stop signs at 30,000 feet.” 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.”

Opponents of the change like to characterize it as a “bailout” for UPS. But as Jim Berard, a spokesman for Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN), said, “it is certainly not a bailout for UPS. We are not giving UPS money. What the bill does, it brings FedEx under the same labor laws as UPS.” Though Alexander characterizes the bill as “singling out” FedEx, as Berard said, in reality “the bill’s purpose is to treat people who have the same type of job equally under federal labor laws.”

The bill which Corker is holding also authorizes higher pilot training standards that the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended in response to a fatal plane crash near Buffalo last year. Families of the crash victims are criticizing the hold.