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UPS vs. FedEx on the Hill

What's the number one, all-day, all-night lobbying priority for FedEx these days?

It's 230 words in a spending bill for the Federal Aviation Administration that has drawn the shipping companies UPS and FedEx into a knock-down-drag-out lobbying fight with one another. The provision would make it easier for FedEx truck drivers to unionize, and as The Hill reported yesterday, the Senate could vote this week on a final version of the bill.

My colleague Dan Eggen has been following this story. As he explains:

The crux of the battle comes down to a quirk in the history of labor law: UPS drivers are governed by the National Labor Relations Act, while FedEx Express drivers are covered by the Railway Labor Act. The former law is seen as more friendly to unions by allowing local organizing and the ability to strike; the latter, which was first applied to FedEx because it was founded as an airline, generally bans strikes and requires labor unions to organize an entire company at one time.

UPS says it wants FedEx drivers to be covered by the RLA as well so the rival shipping companies can operate on a level playing field. Meanwhile, FedEx says the measure amounts to a "bailout" for UPS, even creating a Web site with Facebook links to further the firm's campaign.

FedEx Chief Executive Fred Smith is arguably one of the best-connected businessmen in Washington. He's donated to both Democrats and Republicans. Smith was co-chairman of Sen. John McCain's campaign finance committee in 2008. And President Obama, when asked in an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek which CEO he admires, named Smith.

Smith's influence should offer an advantage to Memphis-based FedEx in this fight. Both Republican Tennessee senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, have threatened to filibuster the bill if it includes this labor portion.

UPS, however, has the backing of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The bill also has some momentum because it includes safety measures supported by relatives of victims of the 2009 plane crash of a regional airliner in upstate New York.

By Jia Lynn Yang  |  July 20, 2010; 3:02 PM ET
Categories:  FedEx , Labor , UPS  
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