Sunday, November 15, 2009

USPS, UPS, FedEx Express and the RLA

The choice of labor law (Postal Reorganization Act (PRA) vs. National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) vs. Railway Labor Act (RLA)) going forward for the USPS may not be clear, FedEx has a clear preference for keeping the FedEx Express Service under the provisions of the RLA. FedEx Express's current position under the action has been under attack by United Parcel Service and the Teamsters who would prefer that that FedEx Express status be changed so that it would be covered under the NLRA.

The change is currently included in HR915, the House version of the FAA Reauthorization Act. This would make it easier for the Teamsters, or any other union, to organize FedEx Express employees. The Teamsters, UPS and FedEx have run aggressive lobbying campaigns. Both UPS and FedEx have courted support from various interest groups that received extensive coverage by Politico last summer.

UPS's position is clearly presented on its website. FedEx, in addition to posting its position on its site, has run a numerous set of web-ads (that may have appeared on television in Washington DC) making its position as a satire of UPS's white-board ads.

The future of this fight over FedEx Express's status, and the labor law under which it operates will depend upon action in the Senate on the FAA reauthorization bill and a possible House-Senate conference to follow. Aviation News has reported that further congressional actions is unlikely this year, so this fight will carry on into the 2nd session of the 111th Congress.

What this fight shows is that the RLA provides advantages to non-unionized firms in their effort to stop organizing efforts. As the employees of the Postal Service and UPS are both unionized, this advantage for management has little value to them. For these firms, preference for operating under the RLA, NLRA, or PRA would depend on whether they believe that the negotiating process under the RLA is better or worse than what they now have. Unions representing UPS and the Postal Service have to ask the same question.

Market-dominant airlines and railroads have had significant challenges adjusting labor contracts to fit new competitive environments and new transportation technologies under the RLA. This should caution management of market-dominant unionized firms facing a changing competitive landscape of using the RLA as a model for labor law in their industry. UPS and Postal Service unions should be equally cautious as less is known about how the RLA negotiation process may have helped or hurt airline and railroad employees dealing with an industry in transition.

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