Currently, House and Senate negotiators are trying to work out the differences between each chamber’s respective bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. One key difference between the bills is that the House version corrects an inequity in labor law that allows Federal Express to operate under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), which poses higher barriers to union organizing than the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). FedEx’s competitors, such as the United Parcel Service, are governed by the NLRA. The Senate bill does not contain the change.
FedEx has been waging an intense campaign in order to preserve its special treatment, led by CEO Fred Smith, who was George W. Bush’s fraternity brother and has said that “I don’t intend to recognize any unions at Federal Express.” And according to Roll Call, in 15 months the company spent $21.1 million lobbying Congress:
Last year, it ranked 14th among all groups and companies in lobbying budgets, spending more than oil giant BP and defense contractor Lockheed Martin. The Memphis-based company also has tapped politically connected assistance, contracting with 14 outside lobbying firms that employ a number of former Senators. Not only is the Breaux Lott Leadership Group working for FedEx, but its founders, former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), are listed on the lobbying disclosure forms as personally working on the account. FedEx hired the international public relations firm Burson-Marsteller to work specifically on this issue.
FedEx has successfully lobbied multiple times to remain classified as an airline (and thus under the RLA), rather than having its ground operation qualified as such, pulling it under the NLRA. This time around, it has threatened to blunt its own growth and scaremongered about medical supply deliveries being delayed if the change in labor law is made.
Tennessee’s two Republican senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, have also pledged to defeat the change. But there’s simply no reason for this inequity to remain law. FedEx’s pilots have already unionized, without the dire consequences that Smith warned about. And in the meantime, FedEx’s drivers are subject to a law that makes it all but impossible to organize and collectively bargain, as they would have to unionize literally the entire company (across the entire country), instead of being allowed to organize at the local level.
Last week, the National Mediation Board — which oversees labor-management relations under the RLA — did away with one inequitable aspect of the antiquated RLA, ensuring that uncast votes in union elections no longer count as votes against the union. Congress would do well to keep the ball rolling, enacting the change taking away the unjustified competitive advantage that FedEx now enjoys.