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

Introduction: The FedEx Express Labor Law Loophole

Almost 100,000 employees of the package-delivery company FedEx Express do not have the same right to be represented by a union as employees who have similar jobs at other package-delivery companies.1 This is because FedEx Express – unlike those other companies – is not covered by the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”),2 the basic federal labor law that covers most of the nation’s private sector workforce, and that protects the right of employees to form, join, and be represented by a union in dealing with their employer in regard to wages, benefits, and working conditions.

FedEx Express – which is the largest division of the FedEx Corporation, and delivers packages to destinations in the United States and around the world3 – is covered instead by the Railway Labor Act4 (“RLA”), a separate federal labor law that is uniquely designed to regulate the railroad and airline industries. Although the RLA – like the NLRA – protects the right of employees to form, join, and be represented by a union, it is far more difficult for employees to organize under the RLA than it is under the NLRA. As a result, only a small segment of the FedEx Express workforce – some 4,500–5,000 pilots – is unionized; almost 100,000 truck drivers, package handlers, dispatchers, and other FedEx Express ground transportation employees are not. This is in marked contrast to the overall situation in the package-delivery industry. By way of example, the ground transportation employees of United Parcel Service (“UPS”) – which is FedEx Express’ leading competitor, and is covered by the NLRA – are represented by the Teamsters Union.5

Because FedEx Express’ RLA coverage is, as one observer has characterized it, an “historical anomaly”6 that is unfair to the FedEx Express employees involved and gives FedEx Express an unwarranted competitive advantage, efforts have been made in recent years to level the playing field by bringing FedEx Express’ ground transportation employees under the NLRA. FedEx Corporation, the parent company of FedEx Express, has used its considerable resources and political influence to oppose these corrective efforts, and to date has been successful in doing so. The issue is now before Congress, and FedEx Corporation is once again engaged in an all-out campaign to retain FedEx Express’ special exception, this time using even more aggressive tactics than it has in the past.

What is at stake here 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 with 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. It is in an effort to frame the debate on those terms that The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has prepared this report.

Before turning to specifics, it is appropriate to explain why The Leadership Conference – the nation’s premier civil and human rights coalition – has chosen to speak out on an issue that some might characterize as “just a labor dispute”? We have done so because this issue implicates the mission of The Leadership Conference. That mission is to protect and promote the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, and the workplace rights of employees – including their right to be represented by a union in seeking better wages, benefits, and working conditions – are civil and human rights. The core purpose of union representation is to bring equity and opportunity to the workplace – by removing barriers to economic advancement, providing workplace dignity and respect, and making the American dream more accessible to workers. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., recognized this intrinsic connection between civil and human rights and workers’ rights in 1961, when he declared:

“Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in their community.”7

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