When FedEx tussles with UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters through media campaigns and Congressional lobbying, something important must be happening.
There is a bill in Congress titled the Express Carrier Employee Fairness Amendment in the Federal Airlines Administration Reauthorization Act (Section 806 of HR 915). Currently, the law allows FedEx to place all of its workers under the Railway Labor Act because FedEx began initially as an airline and employs pilots, mechanics, and others who are directly involved in air transportation.
But FedEx also hires truck drivers. In all other delivery jobs, including the truck driver jobs of UPS, the driver is covered by the National Labor Relations Act. The current reauthorization bill would place FedEx drivers and delivery people in the same category as UPS drivers, and cover their unionizing efforts under the NLRA.
Why does this matter? The NLRA allows local organizing for union contracts, work stoppages and other labor actions, whereas the RLA requires national contract organizing. Obviously, it is easier for workers to organize themselves at the local level than to organize the entire company at once. FedEx likes the RLA status for its workers and considers it ‘competitive.’ UPS and IBT, however, are supporting the FAA Reauthorization Act, which would put FedEx drivers under the jurisdiction of the NLRA. This move would make it easier for 100,000 FedEx workers to organize. To fight this, FedEx has launched an ad campaign calling the effort a “Brown Bailout,” capitalizing on the public’s distaste for corporate bailouts.
Both FedEx and UPS have lost millions during the global recession, and thus the economic status of both companies propels this media campaign toward Congress and the general public. FedEx has threatened Boeing, as part of the media war, saying that it will have to cancel millions of dollars of airplane orders if the bill is passed.
FedEx and Sen. Lamar Alexander-Tenn. (R), who has threatened to prevent the bill from passing in the Senate, represent the most reactionary capitalists; those who would prevent unionization at all costs. Democrats, such as Cong. James Oberstar-Minn., who introduced the legislation, also represent the capitalists, but those who can live with an organized workforce as a means of preventing explosive social conditions.
UPS is no friend to workers, and has fought its unionized workforce tooth and nail. The most memorable battle was the 1997 struggle led by the Teamsters, which culminated in a historic nationwide strike against UPS and a major victory for labor. It is exactly because its workforce is unionized that UPS would like to see FedEx lose the protections it enjoys against unionization. Since an organized workforce has better wages and benefits, corporations see unions as a competitive disadvantage, cutting into their profits. The fight between UPS and FedEx is a battle of capitalists competing against one another for dominance through the media and legislation.
That FedEx advocates the suppression of workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively is not surprising. This media campaign, posing as a grassroots effort to oppose a “brown bailout” represents one more pro-capitalist attack on unions. UPS is no friend of labor either, but they have accepted that a substantial portion of their workforce is organized and would like to see FedEx operating under the same constraints to “level the playing field.”
The Teamsters also support the bill but for different reasons. They hope to be able to organize FedEx workers, and placing FedEx drivers under the NLRA will potentially make that easier to accomplish.
In capitalist society, unions organize the workers and bargain collectively in order to reduce the level of exploitation by seeking higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions. Unions fight for workers' rights, having won gains which many people in the U.S. may take for granted. These victories represent a reduction in the profits of the capitalists. This is why the capitalist class is so eager to use any means to undermine or weaken the unions.