Wall Street Journal: Top Senator Sees Little Chance for FedEx Unionization Proposal

Posted on June 17, 2010

WASHINGTON—Proposed U.S. legislation to make it easier to unionize at FedEx Corp. has no chance of clearing Congress, a top Senate Democrat said Thursday, dealing a blow to a lobbying campaign waged by rival United Parcel Service Inc. and the Teamsters union.

"I know perfectly well if I put that in the bill ... it's not going to pass," Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller (D., W.Va.) said in an interview.

UPS, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and other major unions have spent the past year pushing for the provision to be included in a far-reaching aviation bill that would also raise safety standards in the airline industry and fund the Federal Aviation Administration. FedEx has opposed the measure, saying it would severely disrupt its air-service business.

The House passed a bill with the FedEx provision last year, but a version passed by the Senate in March excludes the measure. Mr. Rockefeller and his counterpart in the House, Rep. James Oberstar (D., Minn.), have spent months in talks to merge the bills but haven't reached agreement on a final version that could clear each chamber.

Mr. Oberstar, the main proponent of the FedEx language, said this week that he and Mr. Rockefeller agreed on the broad principles of the legislation and that no differences were insurmountable. The only major obstacle to the FedEx provision, he said, was the threat of a filibuster—a procedural tactic to effectively block a vote—by Tennessee's Republican senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. FedEx is based in Memphis, Tenn.

A spokesman for Mr. Alexander said the senator "will do everything in his power" to ensure the final FAA bill doesn't include the FedEx provision.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Corker couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Mr. Rockefeller said he personally supported the FedEx measure but that he knew it wouldn't get the Senate votes needed for passage. He said he believed Senate Democrats might still hold a vote on the House measure.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said Senate Democratic leaders "are looking to begin work" on the FAA bill next week.

The House bill would place some of FedEx's drivers and other employees under the National Labor Relations Act, allowing employees to organize locally. UPS drivers are governed by that law. The Teamsters union has said the bill would ensure fairness across the industry.

FedEx argues that it is properly covered under the Railway Labor Act because of the history and arrangement of its air and ground networks.

Write to Josh Mitchell at joshua.mitchell@dowjones.com