Will The Senate Cave To FedEx’s Lobbying By Blocking A House Supported Change In Labor Law?

For months, the House and Senate have been unable to reconcile the differences between their respective versions of legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). One key difference between the bills is that the House included a provision altering a bizarre inequity in labor law that allows FedEx to enact higher bars for unionization for its drivers than other shipping companies.

Currently, FedEx is governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA), which only allows for national unions, as opposed to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which allows for unionization at the local level. FedEx CEO Fred Smith — who was George W. Bush’s fraternity brother and has said “I don’t intend to recognize any unions at Federal Express” — has been loudly denouncing the House’s proposed change, which would pull FedEx under the NLRA.

FedEx spent $21.1 million in 15 months lobbying against it, more than Gulf oil spill culprit BP and defense contractor Lockheed Martin spent in the same period. And according to Congressional Quarterly, all that effort may be paying off for FedEx, as “Senate leaders are considering a ‘test vote’ this week on the House version of the legislation,” as a way of convincing the House that its bill is untenable:

The purpose would be to show the House that an FAA bill will not become law if it includes language that would make it easier for FedEx workers to unionize. According to Senate aides and lobbyists, the gambit would be intended to convince House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., that he must drop his insistence on retaining the contentious labor language.

FedEx has successfully lobbied multiple times to remain classified as an airline (and thus under the RLA), rather than having its ground operation indentified as what it really is. The company has also threatened to disrupt its own growth and scaremongered about medical supply deliveries being delayed if Congress makes the change. Of course, FedEx’s airline pilots have already unionized, without such dire consequences, while FedEx Ground’s drivers are subject to a law that makes it all but impossible to organize and collectively bargain.

Part of the problem in the Senate is that Tennessee’s two representatives — Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) — have threatened to filibuster a bill that includes the change, going to bat for the Nashville based FedEx. But the test vote ploy seems to imply that the Senate won’t even try to circumvent such obstruction, even though the change has Senate support. “I have said very clearly that I believe FedEx workers should have the same right to organize as UPS workers do,” said Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV). “I am continuing to work with Democratic leadership to secure a strong vote on this issue.”

For his part, Oberstar seems unimpressed with the Senate’s idea. He remains “very determined to move this bill…and I cannot see him backing off,” spokesman Jim Berard said, adding that Oberstar recently said that “the House will not be deterred by threats from the Senate.”