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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Railroaded out of Their Rights: How a Labor Law Loophole Prevents FedEx Express Employees from Being Represented by a Union

Executive Summary

Nearly 100,000 ground transportation employees of the package-delivery company FedEx Express are being denied a fair chance to be represented by a union and improve their wages, benefits, and working conditions. Unlike similar employees of other package delivery companies who are covered under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) – the nation’s basic federal labor law for most private sector workers – these FedEx Express employees are covered under the Railway Labor Act (RLA). The RLA, a separate federal labor law uniquely designed to regulate the railroad and airline industries, sets extraordinarily high hurdles for workers seeking to organize.

You might say that these working Americans at FedEx Express – drivers, package handlers, dispatchers, and others – are being “railroaded” out of their rights.

For the civil and human rights community, what is at stake is not simply the technicalities of federal labor law or competition between FedEx Express and other package-delivery companies. The issue is about equity – the right of almost 100,000 FedEx Express employees to be treated fairly and to have the same opportunity as similarly situated employees of other package-delivery companies to be represented by a union in seeking better wages, benefits, and working conditions. For that reason, the issue should be dealt with not with hardball political tactics and slick public relations, but on the basis of facts and logic.

Unfortunately, much of the commentary about the FedEx Express issue has served only to obscure the facts and divert attention away from what is essentially a special exception that is unfair to the FedEx Express employees involved. A thorough review of the law and history of the issue demonstrates that:

The coverage of FedEx Express’ ground transportation employees under the RLA is an historical anomaly. Because its parent company wasessentially an air carrier when it began operations in 1971, FedEx Express was initially subject to airline regulations, including the RLA. That continues to be the case, even though the ground transportation workforce of FedEx Express has grown to almost 100,000 employees who far outnumber the company’s pilots and other airline-related workers.

It is far more difficult for employees covered under the RLA to organize than it is for employees covered under the NLRA. Under the NLRA, employees can beorganized on a location-by-location basis – which means a union can organize the employees at a particular facility of a nationwide company. The RLA, in contrast, requires the union to organize all the employees who do similar work throughout an entire company – which means a union must organize the employees at all of a company’s facilities.

For two decades, FedEx has used every tactic at its disposal in litigation and in Congress to deny FedEx Express ground transportation employees a fair opportunity to organize by allowing them to be covered under the NLRA. FedEx’s effort to keep theseFedEx Express ground transportation employees under the coverage of the RLA is not – as FedEx’s campaign attempts to portray it – a battle between rival package-delivery companies. It is rather a battle between FedEx Express and its own employees who seek the same opportunity to be represented by a union as similarly situated employees of other package and delivery companies.

Congress should correct this inequity by enacting the pending FAA Reauthorization Act with the language proposed by Representative Oberstar that would bring FedEx Express ground transportation employees under the NLRA. Companies that provide asimilar service and that are structured and operated in a similar way should be treated similarly under the law. The Leadership Conference believes that this basic principle should apply to the regulation of labor relations in the package-delivery industry, and it recommends that the Oberstar amendment be included in the final version of the FAA Reauthorization Act.

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