AP: FedEx readies campaign against UPS over labor bill

NEW YORK (AP) — FedEx Corp. is set to launch a multimillion dollar marketing campaign on Tuesday against chief rival UPS Inc., arguing the world’s largest shipping carrier is the driving force behind a bill that would make it easier for FedEx workers to unionize. The bill currently before Congress would switch FedEx to the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Act from the National Railway Labor Act. The Railway Labor Act allows workers to organize, if all workers vote on a union at the same time. That has been a roadblock to unions that could not afford nationwide organizing campaigns.  If FedEx Express workers were to be reclassified under the National Labor Relations Act, they could organize one terminal at a time.

FedEx’s nearly 5,000 pilots are the company’s only employees that currently have a union. The company has a total work force of 290,000. UPS has about 425,000 workers; more than half are union members. Most of UPS’ unionized workers are members of the Teamsters.

FedEx says that UPS will benefit from the legislation because it could potentially drive up costs for its closest competitor. FedEx also argues that more unions would mean a greater chance of work slowdowns or strikes.

“It’s nothing but a back door attempt to make us less reliable,” FedEx’s Director of Corporate Communications Maury Lane said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “It’s a legislative bailout for a profitable company.”

FedEx also warns that shipping rates for consumers will “skyrocket” if the change is made.UPS spokesman Norman Black said FedEx’s “apparent attempt to raise the noise level here” doesn’t change the facts.”It would appear that FedEx is preparing to spend millions of dollars trying to convince Congress that a FedEx driver delivering a package is different somehow than a UPS driver delivering a package,” Black said.

“The packages aren’t delivered by airplanes, and we don’t believe FedEx can fool Congress about that.”FedEx plans to launch a Web site on Tuesday called “brownbailout.com,” referring to UPS’ nickname, “Big Brown.” It will urge consumers to contact their legislators and speak out against the proposed change.

The site is part of a multimedia effort, including videos and TV commercials, that will be launched over an unspecified period.

“America relies too much on the reliability and dependability of its overnight-delivery network, and we can’t allow this bailout to pass only because UPS can’t compete in today’s marketplace,” Lane wrote in marketing materials for the campaign.

FedEx threatened in March to delay a planned purchase of 30 new Boeing 777 cargo planes if Congress reclassifies the Memphis, Tenn.-based company.The company argued that the loss of cost-cutting flexibility that would come with unions would make it impossible to afford the planes.

Going ahead with the plane purchase could help ensure thousands of jobs for Boeing employees, workers at General Electric Co. who make the jet engines and workers at hundreds of subcontractors.

The prospect of new unions forming at FedEx comes as the company works through the global economic recession. Thousands of its employees have taken wage cuts or salary freezes as the company faces deteriorating demand. FedEx has also laid off a number of workers to balance waning package volume.

The Railway Labor Act was established in 1926 to avoid interruption of goods transported by rail across the country. Its coverage was extended to airlines in 1936, and FedEx was put under its jurisdiction when it began as Federal Express in 1971.Similar legislation to change FedEx’s legal classification was introduced in 2007, but the bill was ultimately rejected in the Senate.

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