February 17, 2010

Hoffa seeks level "playing field" between FedEx, UPS

Teamsters leader calls on Congress to align labor rules governing the two transportation giants; vows to organize "100,000 FedEx workers" once that happens.

By Mark B. Solomon

Teamsters Union President James Hoffa yesterday called on Congress to force FedEx Corp.'s air express workers to operate under the same labor law that governs its arch-rival UPS Inc., and vowed to "organize 100,000 workers at FedEx" once that happens.

Speaking at a conference of the union's brewery division in Washington, Hoffa said, "There is one law for FedEx and another law for UPS. We need to level the playing field and when we do that, we're going to organize 100,000 workers at FedEx."

Currently, workers at FedEx Express's air express unit are governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA), a 1926 law that covers workers in the airline and railroad industries. All FedEx Express employees are covered under the RLA whether they're air-based workers like pilots, or workers who aren't directly involved in aircraft operations and maintenance, such as loaders and delivery drivers.

By contrast, UPS workers, which are heavily represented by the Teamsters, are covered under a different statute known as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which governs workers in the trucking and other industries. UPS has long argued that FedEx Express is the only company in U.S. transportation whose drivers, sorters, and loaders are covered by a labor law designed for airline workers instead of ground-service employees.

There is more at stake than semantics. The NLRA, which permits workers to be organized at a local, terminal-by-terminal level, is considered a much easier path to unionization than the RLA, which requires that workers at a company be organized as a single unit. Other than its pilots, FedEx has been largely non-union since its founding in 1972, and it wants to remain that way. The Teamsters, meanwhile, would covet a foothold in the FedEx Express operation.

Last year, Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) was able to include language in legislation that passed the House of Representatives that would have permitted the RLA classification for only those express carrier employees who are pilots and airplane mechanics, and perform the type of work governed under that law. He said the provision would "remove the disparity in current law" between the express operations of FedEx and UPS. The provision was never included in companion legislation in the Senate, however.

More articles by Mark B. Solomon

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