FedEx wins labor word war

House passes spending bill without jurisdictional change

Posted on December 18, 2007

WASHINGTON -- In a victory for FedEx, the 2,206-page omnibus spending bill passed by the House Monday does not contain language to change the jurisdiction of labor agreements that involve FedEx Express. Efforts to kill the language that put the division under the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Act, which was passed in a House bill that reauthorized the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year, were successful, those familiar with the negotiations said Monday. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who was recently voted into the No. 3 spot in the GOP conference leadership, made it clear to other senators that he would oppose the omnibus bill if it contained the FedEx Express language, his press spokesman, Lee Pitts, said Monday. Alexander, who serves on the Appropriations Committee, talked to Sens. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and both of Mississippi's senators, Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, about the provision. Cochran is the committee chairman. The Senate is expected to consider the omnibus bill today. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., contacted administration officials and members of the Appropriations Committee to express his "strong opposition" to the FedEx Express language, his spokesman, Laura Lefler, said Monday evening. Jim Berard, a spokesman for House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., who sought the jurisdictional change, said Oberstar did not seek to have the language placed in tonight's spending bill. Berard also pointed out that the National Labor Relations Act language remains in the House-passed FAA reauthorization bill. The Senate bill reauthorizing the FAA does not contain the provision and will be considered early next year. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., said there was an effort to attach the language to the spending measure and FedEx was successful in seeing it didn't happen. Cohen serves on the Transportation Committee with Oberstar, but opposed the measure. The bill extends funding for most of the federal government operations for another six months. It is mainly a spending bill, but contains specific policy language on a number of issues. The significance of the change proposed by Oberstar and fought by FedEx is that it would allow non-airline FedEx Express employees to organize on a local basis, rather than on a national basis, as railroad and airline employees do under the jurisdiction of the Railway Labor Act. FedEx CEO and founder Frederick W. Smith testified before a Senate Finance subcommittee in July that the change proposed in the House bill was not only bad public policy, but was also inserted without hearings being held on the issue. Smith maintains that pickup and delivery functions of the FedEx Express drivers are an integral part of its air operation. That interpretation was endorsed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1992. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has been trying to organize the company's drivers at the local level, where labor disputes are resolved by the National Labor Relations Board. A labor dispute at a single local could affect FedEx's overall operation and jeopardize the company's reputation for next-day deliveries. The employees of FedEx's principal rival, United Parcel Service, are represented by the Teamsters, but that is because the company came into being as a delivery service, not an airline. Its collective-bargaining disputes are resolved under the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Act.