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Help Wanted: Peter Pan Delivery Drivers

Conservatives continue to find themselves split in the fight between FedEx and UPS over a bill to place FedEx Express drivers under the same law as every other package delivery driver. And many who are on the FedEx side are there simply because FedEx is non-union and, hey, conservatives don’t like unions, right?

But this isn’t about unionization. This is about the government treating two package delivery companies – both of which use air and ground transportation to provide their services – equally by placing their operations under the same federal labor laws. That’s it.

On its new anti-UPS website, FedEx claims the proposed change would “force the world’s most efficient airline to operate under trucking rules that have never applied to airlines.” But is FedEx Express an airline….or a package delivery company?

When FedEx was originally founded it was deemed an airline because it flew important documents from one city to the next which would otherwise take days, weeks or months if delivered via the speed and efficiency of the government’s postal service. As such – and using the same kind of government logic which named the agency in charge of everything outdoors the Department of Interior – its employees were placed under the Railway Labor Act (RLA).

The fact that this set of labor laws was created with choo-choos in mind before Al Gore invented massive air transportation indicates that a serious re-write of this law is long overdue, but that’s an issue for another day.

In any event, FedEx Express drivers – again using the kind of logic which only makes sense in government – were place under the same choo-choo law which governs airlines. And they’ve remained under this classification even as the company shifted heavily into the package delivery business after Al Gore invented the fax machine, making expensive overnight document delivery less of a necessity.

So along comes a bill (H.R. 915) which would keep FedEx Express’s actual airline employees under the Railway Labor Act while moving its non-flying truck drivers over to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) with all the other non-flying truck drivers in the package delivery industry. FedEx is objecting because of the special anti-unionization benefits the company currently enjoys under the Railway Labor Act.

I fully understand WHY FedEx doesn’t want to give up this special government benefit, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.

Bear in mind we’re not talking about FedEx employees and support personnel who fly packages around the country here. We’re talking about drivers delivering packages AFTER they’ve arrived by air. And we’re not talking about driving the packages from the plane to a warehouse next to the airport. We’re talking about delivering the packages from the plane right to the door of your home or office.

More on that in a second, but first let’s take a look at the top 20 U.S. airlines and their employees.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics for 2007, American Airlines – which has the largest number of pilots and co-pilots of any airline – has zero “Transport Related” employees (truck drivers). United, Delta, Southwest, USAirways and Continental have zero truck drivers. Northwest has 165 truck drivers and Mesa has 4. But Express Jet, Sky West, American Eagle, Jet Blue, Comair, Airtran and Alaska have zero truck drivers. Heck, even UPS has zero truck drivers in its own airline operation.

But FedEx lists 86,979 truck drivers.

Huh? Why does FedEx – which is claiming to be an airline in order to be covered under the Railway Labor Act – have 86,810 more truck drivers in its “airline” operation than all of the other top 20 U.S. airlines put together? Obviously something ain’t kosher here.

To continue enjoying its special benefit under the law, FedEx Express is claiming that its drivers are “integrated” into the air operation and, therefore, employees who drive packages around town after they arrive at the airport should be considered airline employees.

Now think about that for a minute. The argument here is that both FedEx and Delta are airlines – only one moves passengers and the other moves packages. But once Delta moves its passengers from one airport to the next, those passengers find non-airline modes of ground transportation, such as taxis, to get from the airport to their final destination. While few can fly from one city to another, plenty can drive from the airport to, well, anywhere.

What FedEx is essentially claiming is that it has “integrated” a taxicab operation for packages into its air operation and that the taxicab operation should be treated like Delta rather than treated like Yellow Cab. That’s absurd. Calling a ground transportation company an airline doesn’t make it one. A rose by any other name and all that.

FedEx Express’s argument that its drivers are airline employees just doesn’t fly. Unless FedEx Express’s 86,979 express delivery drivers suddenly become Peter Pans and begin flying your packages right to your front door and then fly off to the next door – think Flight of the Bumblebee – they ought to fall under the same federal law as every other express delivery driver in the industry.

Equality under the law. Why, it’s as American as….well, FedEx.

P.S. As this issue has stirred up considerable interest and some disagreement among conservatives and libertarians, I’ve created a new dedicated blog/website to address the issue for those who have an interest in it. Check it out at www.FedExcess.info