Memphis Commercial Appeal: Alexander pledges support to FedEx

Posted on April 10, 2010

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Friday he'll fight to keep FedEx's labor law coverage intact in the face of a "political power play" by rival UPS.

Alexander talked about the labor issue in an interview after a Greater Memphis Chamber luncheon at Opera Memphis. He was introduced by FedEx chairman, president and CEO Frederick W. Smith, but labor wasn't mentioned in the introduction or during Alexander's Q&A with chamber members.

"If UPS wants to compete with FedEx, it should do it in the marketplace and not in the halls of Congress," Alexander said. "And senators who greatly respect UPS, as I do, are offended by the legislative effort to damage FedEx for a decision it made when it started, which was the only decision available."

The senator added, "The easy resolution of this is if UPS feels like it doesn't have a level playing field, it can switch to the labor law that governs FedEx. It's perfectly free to do that."

UPS spokesman Malcolm Berkley said, "If anyone's making a political power play, it's FedEx." He cited FedEx's spending of nearly $4.7 million lobbying the federal government in the fourth quarter of 2009, compared to $1.3 million for UPS.

He added, "This is simply about fairness."

The House of Representatives included in an FAA reauthorization bill a provision making it easier for unions to organize certain employee groups at FedEx Express. The Senate version didn't include the provision, which FedEx opposes as major threat to its business.

Lawmakers eventually extended the current FAA bill through April 30 without reconciling the disagreement over FedEx's labor coverage.

"It's important that we have an FAA bill," Alexander said, "We need one, and I worked to help pass it. It passed the Senate unanimously. But if the FAA bill comes back from the House of Representatives with the FedEx provision in it, I and I believe enough other senators of both parties will do everything we can to defeat the legislation until that provision is out."

Alexander said he met with Dist. Atty. Gen. Bill Gibbons and other organizers of Operation Safe Community and was impressed by reductions in crime. He also lauded Memphis education leaders for landing a Gates Foundation grant.

During the chamber's first "A Conversation With..." event, Alexander fielded questions on topics ranging from a perceived loss of civility in politics to his views of legislation aimed at cleaning up the environment.

In his opening remarks, he panned the Democrat-led health care reform as too costly to consumers and the country.

"I think we made a mistake. I think we have a chance to fix the mistake in the next three or four years, and I'm going to be a part of that."