Canadian FedEx workers win union recognition

A small group of FedEx warehouse workers in British Columbia, Canada became the first non-pilot FedEx workers in North America to win union recognition.

Fourteen warehouse workers in Surrey, British Columbia joined Teamsters Local 31 after the Canadian Industrial Labor Relations Board certified Local 31 as their collective bargaining representative.

“We are tremendously excited to welcome the FedEx Freight workers into the Teamsters, and we hope this is the first of many victories at this company,” said Stan Hennessy, president of Local 31.  “We will now work hard to negotiate a strong first contract.”

The Teamsters are hoping to expand its recently established foothold at FedEx.

In October, warehouse workers in New Jersey will be voting in a union representation election, and FedEx workers at other sites have filed petitions with the US National Labor Relations Board seeking a union vote.

“We are seeing workers at FedEx Freight across North America saying they want their wages, benefits, and working conditions negotiated in a legally binding union contract,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters general president. “They are turning to the Teamsters for help and we will be there for them.”

In British Columbia, the FedEx workers who joined the Teamsters were seeking parity with unionized warehouse workers. Their wages are lower than union wages, and their benefits are practically non-existent, said Hennessy.

Additionally, most of the new Teamster members were working only 20 hours a week.

“How are they supposed to improve their quality of life (working just 20 hours a week)?” said Hennessy. “They have had enough of living without the slightest safety net!”

FedEx has been in the forefront of keeping labor costs down by maintaining a so-called flexible labor force that lacks a collective voice.

It has classified many of its drivers as independent contractors, so that they can’t unionize. Additionally, by classifying these workers as independent contractors, FedEx doesn’t have to pay Social Security taxes, workers compensation taxes, overtime, and other benefits that employers are legally required to pay their workers.

But a three-judge panel of the US 9th of Appeals in California in August ruled that FedEx has misclassified 2,300 drivers in Oregon and California as independent contractors.

“The drivers must wear FedEx uniforms, drive FedEx-approved vehicles, and groom themselves according to FedEx’s appearance standards,” wrote Judge William Fletcher in explaining why the court ruled that the plaintiffs were employees not independent contractors. “FedEx tells its drivers what packages to deliver, on what days, and at what times. Although drivers may operate multiple delivery routes and hire third parties to help perform their work, they may do so only with FedEx’s consent.”

The ruling if upheld allows the drivers to pursue claims that FedEx did not pay them overtime and other benefits to which employees are entitled.

FedEx is facing similar suits in other states.

FedEx has engaged in other questionable practices that appear to skirt the law.

The New York Attorney General in March filed a $70 million lawsuit against FedEx for delivering untaxed cigarettes in the state.

According to a media release by the New York Attorney General, “between 2006 and 2012, FedEx made nearly 33,000 illegal shipments of cigarettes to consumers in New York State, amounting to over 400,000 cartons of untaxed cigarettes and a direct tax loss to the state of over $10 million. Each illegal shipment carries a maximum penalty of $5,000. The shipments were in clear violation of an agreement FedEx entered into with the New York State Attorney General’s Office in 2006, in which it agreed to cease all unlawful cigarette deliveries to consumers both in New York and throughout the country.”

In 2013, FedEx settled a class action suit charging the company with overcharging “customers more than $5 million in bogus fees by charging these customers a higher-priced residential delivery rate. In addition, the company allegedly failed to advise consumers that there are certain ZIP codes that would necessitate an additional fee due to the addresses’ remote location.”

FedEx agreed to pay $21.5 million to resolve the suit.

With all of its legal troubles, you might think that 14 of its workers in British Columbia wanting to join a union wouldn’t be much cause for alarm at FedEx, but the company conducted an aggressive anti-union campaign in Surrey.

“The company sent representatives from other cities to the warehouse to meet with workers in group settings and one-on-one to dissuade them from supporting the union,” said Ben Hennessey, Local 31 organizer. “But the workers remained united in their support to become Teamsters.”

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